When we talk about the quality of teaching in any of our schools, what exactly are we referring to? How do we measure high-quality teaching or how do we know when we see it? What processes and procedures are in place to identify and nurture good teaching? Is high-quality teaching only about the individual teacher or is it more about the culture in which that teacher finds him or herself? These are important questions for us to consider as we try to figure out who our high quality teachers are and how we prepare or support them in our schools?
There are multiple variables that go into determining whether a teacher is “high-quality.” These could include, but are not limited to:
• The recruitment of teachers.
• Defining the qualifications of the teacher that fits the school’s strategic goals.
• The preparation the teacher has gone through to be in the classroom or the path he or she has taken to achieve their goals.
• For new teachers, the quality of the induction program that establishes their foundational skills.
• A school’s mentoring structure or program for supporting new teachers or teachers new to the school’s culture.
• The professional development the school provides to support a teacher’s professional goals.
• A faculty culture that embraces collaboration using the model of professional learning communities.
• The overall working conditions of the faculty, such as availability of resources and the quality of the facilities.
• A school that understands and tries to achieve a balance between nurturing faculty independence while also holding them accountable for providing an optimal learning environment.
• The supervision and evaluation system of the school that holds faculty accountable and provides guidance in meeting professional goals.
• The compensation systems that are in place to support faculty salaries, stipends for additional work, or rewards for excellence.
• The culture of retention, the support the school provides to promote longevity.
The research tells us that if students have “high-quality” teachers for sequential years, it is highly likely that their performance and achievement will exceed expectations (Aronson, 2007; Ballard and Bates, 2008; and Gallagher, 2002). If the research is right, and there is little reason to doubt it, then schools need to develop a comprehensive plan to sustain a culture of highly competent teachers. I would propose that accomplishing this feat requires a conscious plan that includes addressing all the elements in the above list.
The danger of programs like Race to the Top, the initiative by the Obama administration, is that they will over simplify what it takes to create a teacher workforce with high standards and a high degree of professionalism. To receive Race to the Top funds, states must show that they will take four steps: adopt common standards and high-quality assessments; develop and use state longitudinal-data systems; improve evaluations of teachers and principals that take into consideration student-achievement scores; and turn around failing schools. While one of these steps involves creating a faculty culture that promotes the identification, nurturing, and retention of high-quality teachers, the initiative falls far short of comprehensively supporting school districts. It strikes me that Race to the Top is not the visionary realignment of No Child Left Behind that this country needs.
Race to the Top, only about 1% of the federal funds for education, is not the only initiative supported by the Obama administration. They have aggressively supported federal programs in early childhood education, as well as trying to improve general child well-being through their health care initiatives. Therefore, criticism of Race to the Top is somewhat myopic in that it is a small, voluntary component of the federal government’s attempt to change the landscape of public education.
However, I do think that if we want to truly increase the achievement of our students we must put a more concerted effort into the adoption of a plan that helps school administrators adopt a more comprehensive approach to recruiting, growing, and maintaining a high-quality teacher workforce. We cannot promote high-quality teachers if we focus on one aspect of what it takes to create a profession culture of teachers within a school.