December 5, 2016
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Quality Teachers Affect Disparities In Education

WASHINGTON  – This is a critical time for expanding the current discussion on teacher evaluation systems beyond simply focusing on identifying “good” and “bad” teachers for purposes of reward or dismissal, according to a new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The nation must also make sustained investments to build the teacher profession and focus more intently on redesigning schools to support teachers and student learning.

“To date, a great deal of policy debate on teacher effectiveness has centered on the use of student test scores for determining whether teachers receive merit pay or are fired,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “However, these strategies alone will not help to ensure that all students have access to a great teacher.”

According to the brief, Call for Action: Transforming Teaching and Learning to Prepare High School Students for College and Careers, unevenness in teaching quality and effectiveness leads to vast disparities in student learning and outcomes across all levels—especially among low-income students and students of color who are traditionally underserved by the American public education system. The problem is exacerbated at the secondary level, where large numbers of out-of-field teachers, limited support for professional learning, and unfavorable working conditions are combined with large, factory-model schools to create even more challenging learning environments for students.

The brief argues that students will be adequately prepared for college and careers only if they have teachers who (1) have the knowledge and skills to make sure courses are truly challenging and (2) have the ability to elicit levels of student engagement and performance that are in line with postsecondary expectations.

Unlike higher-performing nations, however, the United States has not sustained focused investments in a stable, well-prepared teaching force. As the brief points out, federal and state attention to investing in educators has waned since the 1980s.

Demographic trends such as the influx of the millennial generation and the departure of the baby boom generation make the need to act even more urgent. One third of young teachers leave schools within the first few years while half are gone within five years. At the same time, “baby boomer” teachers are leaving schools with high levels of education and decades of teaching experience. In twenty states, more than half of current teachers are over the age of fifty. (Click here to see what percentage of your state’s teachers are fifty or older).

While some schools and districts have launched innovative programs, most remain at the margins of a system that is still not designed to ensure high levels of educational attainment for all young people. Moreover, research shows that teaching has been constrained by the design of state standards and tests that reinforce twentieth-century schooling, where the teacher merely serves as a transmitter of a fixed body of knowledge and information. Teaching 2.0, in contrast, must focus not on what is taught but on what is learned, and it must draw upon advances over the last several decades in cognitive science, technology, and assessment.
 
The challenge for secondary school teachers is especially difficult, notes the Alliance brief. For example, many middle and high school teachers receive meager training and support to help students develop high-level literacy skills. These teachers are also ill equipped in using regular classroom assessments that measure student progress and can inform the teacher’s instruction on how to better help widely diverse students reach high achievement levels. Teachers also fail to receive training needed to work successfully with students from diverse populations, such as English language learners and students with disabilities.

Call to Action notes that the pending reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind, offers an opportunity to address the widespread inconsistencies between what students are expected to achieve and the knowledge and competencies teachers must possess to ensure their success. The brief offers several recommendations on how the federal government can support educator development:

  • Support the state-led adoption and thoughtful implementation of common standards and aligned assessments toward advancing college and career readiness.
  • Encourage states working with practitioners to create standards of practice that define quality teaching based on what teachers need to know and be able to do to elicit targeted student performances embodied in common standards and assessments.
  • Support the development of robust teacher performance assessments that incorporate observational measures of teaching for the purpose of evaluating, developing, and recognizing teacher effectiveness and informing professional preparation and development.
  • Direct states and districts to develop coherent, performance-based human capital systems based on core practices that address career-long professional growth and advancement.
  • Build and use longitudinal data systems to track teacher and student growth data, and link teacher and student performance with programs responsible for preparing and providing professional development.



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