On May 24, Representative George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, unveiled a new initiative to attract and retain highly qualified teachers and principals for all of America’s public schools. Miller’s proposed legislation, the Teacher Excellence for All Children (TEACH) Act of 2005, would provide incentives to increase the supply of outstanding teachers and create support systems, such as mentoring and induction, to retain public elementary and secondary school teachers and principals.
“The most important single factor in determining a child’s success in school is the quality of his or her teacher,” Miller said. “We all remember a teacher-or several teachers-who made us proud of ourselves for what we accomplished and helped us face our future with hope and confidence. My bill is a major legislative initiative that will attract our most talented teachers to the classrooms of our nation’s toughest public schools-and encourage them to stay there.”
According to Miller, the country will have to hire more than two million new teachers over the next decade. At the same time, very few of the nation’s best students consider careers as teachers. Research has shown that students with high SAT and ACT scores are much less likely to choose teaching as a career. Those who do are twice as likely to leave the profession after only a few years. To help grow the supply pool and attract the nation’s best and brightest students, Miller’s legislation would provide grants of up to $4,000 each year for four years to high-achieving college students. Students would receive the grant money while still in school in return for a four-year commitment to teaching after they receive their degree.
In addition to drawing more individuals into the teaching field, the TEACH Act would also work to retain teachers once they enter. When the final school bell rings this year and students across the nation head out the door for summer vacation, too many of their teachers will also be leaving the classroom-permanently. Estimated conservatively, American schools spend more than $2.6 billion annually replacing teachers who have dropped out of the profession. In Tapping the Potential, the Alliance for Excellent Education reported that comprehensive induction programs are critical to retaining new teachers, even when other factors such as salary, school conditions, and the teacher’s personal background are taken into account.
The TEACH Act would offer grants to school districts to develop state-of the-art teacher induction programs that provide new teachers with a minimum of three years of extensive, high-quality, comprehensive induction into the field of teaching. Beginning teachers are routinely assigned the most difficult classrooms, without the requisite professional support or demonstration of what it takes to help their students achieve; this is one of the major factors that causes almost a third of new teachers to leave the profession within their first three years.
As part of their induction program under the TEACH Act, new teachers would receive structured mentoring from veteran teachers who are certified and teach in the same subject area as they do. They would also receive common lesson-planning time to collaborate with their mentors, other teachers, and school leaders across all levels of experience. The program would include a standards-based assessment of every beginning teacher to determine whether the teacher should move forward in the teaching profession.
In an effort to recognize outstanding veteran teachers, the TEACH Act would provide grants to states to develop and implement statewide data systems to study the value-added effectiveness of elementary school and secondary school teachers. Research has shown that the most effective teachers can boost their pupils’ learning by a full grade level relative to students taught by less effective teachers. Replacing an average teacher with a very good one for five years in a row can, for instance, nearly erase the gap in math performance between students from low-income and high-income households. The act also promotes the establishment of “teacher career advancement ladders,” which would augment the salaries of teachers who expand their knowledge and skills and take on new professional roles such as mentor and master teachers.
According to the requirements of No Child Left Behind, states must ensure that all of their teachers are highly qualified by the 2005-06 school year. At the high school level, a “highly qualified” teacher must have a college major or otherwise be able to “demonstrate knowledge” of the subject taught. However, more than one-third of children in grades 7-12 are currently taught by a teacher who lacks both a college major and certification in the subject being taught. Rates of “out-of-field teachers” are especially high in high-poverty schools. To combat the high numbers of classes taught by out-of-field teachers, the TEACH Act would provide funding for school districts to pay higher salaries to exemplary highly qualified teachers and principals who transfer into the hardest-to-staff schools. Teachers in traditionally hard-to-staff subjects such as math, science, and special education would receive extra incentives.
More information on the TEACH Act is available at http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/ed31_democrats/rel52405.html.