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Transforming Teaching

Below, ERS Executive Director Karen Hawley Miles contributes to the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog conversation titled “Focus on Teacher Effectiveness.”

Improving teaching effectiveness at scale requires transforming the profession as a whole. Often the current discussion on teaching effectiveness implies that teachers either have “what it takes” or they don’t, and they will magically improve given the right carrot and stick. Yes, the carrot and stick are important, but alone they cannot hope to fix an outmoded system centered on teachers working in isolation. What has to change to secure an environment that attracts, supports and retains effective teachers?

Imagine a school system where each student experiences individual teachers as part of an integrated team that collectively brings a breadth of skills, knowledge and experience to bear for their students and each other. No longer are teachers alone in classrooms that grow increasingly larger with budget cuts. Instead, teachers are working together, providing all students with carefully monitored learning time, in groups of varying composition throughout the day depending on the project at hand.

In this system, an “evaluation” is not a score, narrowly defined, based on one or two high stakes tests and a handful of observations, but a detailed picture of each teacher’s contributions. This expanded evaluation would include not only the performance of their students, but also teachers’ contributions working with colleagues and students, and an understanding of their strengths and areas for further development. Evaluators would take into account key factors that support or impede teachers’ effectiveness including their course load, the stability of their student population, the mix of teachers’ skills on their team, and the type of professional development they have received. And while this evaluation would influence each teacher’s compensation and tenure, its more immediate purpose would be to provide critical data to the teacher, his or her principal and the district. This data would inform a wide range of other human capital decisions, including job and team assignment, support, professional development, coaching needs, and opportunities for additional responsibilities and promotion. (See The Teaching Job: Restructuring for Effectiveness for details and guidance.)

Such a system would provide the foundation for a teaching profession that attracts and retains the best candidates through emphasizing team collaboration, rewarding contribution within and beyond the classroom, and establishing interventions and consequences for poor performance. Equally important, such a system would give district and school leaders the flexibility and information they need to deploy and manage effective teaching teams.

This post was adapted from our commentary in Ed Week, January 18, 2011.

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