Getting the best teachers where they’re needed most (Teaching and Leading)
The willy-nilly distribution of our most effective classroom teachers -- who almost inevitably end up part of disproportionately expensive All-Star faculties at a small set of successful schools -- is perhaps the most ignored issue in state, federal, and local school improvement efforts today:
Certainly, the people pushing high school and small school reform aren’t talking about it. It’s largely off the screen of most standards and accountability advocates. Researchers and ideologues get lost figuring out how to measure good teaching ("Certified" Teachers Aren't Always the Most Qualified CER). Merit pay, weighted-student budgeting, and value-added assessment evangelists are still nibbling at the margins in most places, for political, logistical, and other reasons. As Education Week highlighted earlier this year in its “Taking Root” package, there may be no part of NCLB that has received less attention and effort than the “equitable distribution” requirement.
Oh sure, lots of effort has gone into getting more teachers qualified, largely because of NCLB. And better recruitment has been the focus of some big-city systems for the past few years. Mentoring and induction programs for new hires are also increasingly common, though the quality is still questionable. And a few people have focused on researching high teacher turnover rates and growing more teachers from within the communities that need the most help.
But focused attention on getting the best teachers where they’re needed most is still surprisingly hard to come by. The past few weeks of clips have included a brave band of district leaders who are trying desperate and controversial things like transfer limits to make sure that their lowest schools don’t have their least able teachers. This week’s Center on Education Policy report on year three of NCLB mentions a few district-led efforts, including one incentive program in Florida that pays certain teachers extra to work in low-performing schools.
The most amazing example of this hesitancy and inaction surrounds nationally certified teachers, who in theory should be ready and willing to help the cause. They're supposed to be the best of the best. Most already get financial recognition for their abilities -- one of the only forms of salary differentiation that we have (outside of credentials and experience).
However, as this week’s EW article (Conferees Mull Best Uses of NBPTS Teachers) shows, even when we think we know who the best teachers are, and are willing to pay them extra for their skills, we’re not sure we want to put them in the inferno of a low-performing school. (Teach and Learn’s take on the same conference can be read here.) Just a few states and districts have created incentives for nationally certified teachers to teach in high-need schools.
As I write in today’s column in the Chicago Journal, it seems to me that, with NBCT incentive programs and more generally, the needs of the school system must finally be brought into the current teacher hiring process, which is currently dominated by teachers’ and principal’s interests. There are a bunch of ways to get there, and no one’s suggesting that teachers and principals shouldn’t have a big say in who teaches where, but Struggling schools deserve good teachers, too (Chicago Journal). It's time.
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Inside the Black Box: School District Spending on Professional Development in Education The Finance Project/Journal of Education Finance, March 2005 via NCTQ