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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
November 1, 1996
Vol. 38
No. 7

Focusing on Teacher Quality

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What Damon Moore remembers most about his first year of teaching was how unprepared he was to cope with the realities of the classroom.
"I thought I had an excellent preparation," Moore says. The Ball State University graduate had interned and student taught in the Muncie (Ind.) Public Schools, and felt confident, ready to teach. The middle school science teacher soon discovered, however, that "observing was a lot different than doing. When I came face-to-face with reality, I was in shock."
He was also alone. With no mentoring program in place, Moore says he learned how to teach that first year from his students—to whom he still expresses his gratitude. Those students should not have had to shoulder such responsibility, Moore maintains. As a novice, he should have been guided by a veteran teacher. "I did not know how to effectively deliver what I knew [about science] to my students. A mentor would have helped me meet the needs of my students sooner," he says.
Moore's experiences—and the similar experiences of many other teachers in the United States—helped shape the recommendations outlined in What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. The report summarizes two years of research and debate undertaken by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, a 26-member panel of educators, public officials, and business and community leaders, formed to examine the education system in the United States and to determine how to ensure that all children have what the commission calls their "birthright"—access to highly qualified, competent teachers.
The report turns an unblinking, disapproving eye on much of the education system, but also offers solutions for fixing what it criticizes. The alarming statistics peppered throughout What Matters Most reveal the appalling learning conditions that exist for too many students today, but the success stories also included in the report illustrate how good teachers, supported by the competent leaders and reorganized schools, can become even better, and can help boost student achievement.
The wisdom of investing time and money in helping teachers develop their skills is supported by research, stated Linda Darling-Hammond during a press conference held to launch the report. Darling-Hammond, director of the commission and a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, cited a recent study, which found "that every dollar spent on improving teacher quality resulted in improved student performance."
That finding comes as no surprise to parents, who, at the beginning of each school year, "await the assignment of new teachers with a mixture of eagerness and anxiety," the commission notes in What Matter Most. "These parents spend tremendous energy in search of good teaching because they know what a difference it will make to their children's future," the commission writes.

The Challenge and the Charge

  • Ensure that teachers meet high standards by establishing professional standards boards in every state, insisting on accreditation for all schools of education and closing inadequate ones, and requiring that all teachers be licensed based on demonstrated performance.
  • Expand professional development programs to help new and veteran teachers meet high standards, by moving teacher education to the graduate level and instituting yearlong internships for preservice teachers, and by establishing mentoring programs within schools.
  • Improve teacher recruitment by requiring districts to hire only qualified teachers and eliminating barriers to teacher mobility.
  • Design compensation systems that reward knowledge and skill and remove incompetent teacher form the classroom.
  • Reorganize schools to invest more resources in teachers and classrooms.
The commission acknowledges that these recommendations aren't necessarily new. They build on the work of education reform efforts already underway in schools across the United States. "The issue," the commission notes in What Matters Most, "is how to move from a panoply of individual disconnected efforts to a more coherent system of supports" for teachers.
"We did wrestle with how to keep this from being just another report," says Moore, who served on the commission. Outlined in What Matters Most are all the roles all stakeholders can play in achieving the changes the commission recommends. And, "there is a cadre of states that are willing to implement the recommendations," says Moore. The states will develop a five-year plan to pilot activities designed to address key concerns.

To Keep Good Teachers

Damon Moore is the type of teacher the commission wants to support and retain. In his 26-year career, Moore has sought to improve his teaching and has led the drive to establish standards for teachers both in his home state and across the United States. Moore's efforts have earned him recognition and many awards.
Still, Moore once found it necessary to leave the classroom to "grow" professionally. He coordinated a Chapter 1 program and served as an educational-technologies consultant to a private company. "It was a learning experience for me," he says, and he now "brings back" what he learned to students at Dennis Middle School in Richmond, Ind.
Moore's stint outside the classroom also strengthened a conviction he brought to his work on the commission—that professional development opportunities must be made available to teachers, but not at the students' expense. "We can't afford to lose good teachers," Moore maintains. "I should never have to leave the classroom to get the knowledge and experiences I need to do a better job in the classroom. And students should not be penalized for a teacher's lack of knowledge."
Copies of the summary and the full report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, are available from The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, P.O. Box 5239, Woodbridge, VA 22194-5239

Redefining School Leadership

No effort to improve teacher quality in the United States can succeed without the support of school leaders, observe members of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. Principals should understand "why and how teaching and learning can be improved," writes the commission in What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. Principals, the commission maintains, must reorganize schools to better support teaching and learning, and create new possibilities for shared leadership.

That same vision of leadership has guided members of the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) of the Council of Chief State School Officers in their efforts to develop model standards, indicators, and assessments to be used for licensing principals and other school leaders. The final version of the standards should be available by the end of December.

The standards support school leaders who believe that student learning is the fundamental purpose of schooling, says Neil Shipman, standards project director for the ISLLC. "The perception is that principals are managers only, but truly effective leaders are involved in instructional issues," he explains.

"It's too easy to focus on building maintenance and other issues of that sort," agrees Bonnie Robinson, principal at Ashaway Elementary School in Ashaway, R.I., and one of 10,000 school administrators from around the United States asked to review the draft standards. "The new standards bring me back to what our job is about—improving student learning," she says.

The ISLLC's drive to create licensing standards began two years ago, around the same time that the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, along with the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), was preparing curriculum guidelines for programs in educational leadership. As a result, "there is a strong relationship between the NCATE guidelines and our standards," Shipman says. He notes that the voluntary standards reflect contemporary thinking about what makes for effective leadership, and therefore should be a helpful guide to states in licensing school leaders.

The new standards can guide principals as well, adds Robinson. "The standards offer a clear delineation of our job responsibilities," she says, adding that she will borrow the language in the standards document to help explain her role to the school's newly formed site-based council.

Robinson also plans to use the standards to assess her own performance. "The standards will help me to determine what I might not be doing well and how I might improve," she explains. "After all, if I can't improve, how can I expect my teachers to?"

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