Research has established that teacher quality is the most powerful school-based factor in student learning, outweighing students’ social and economic backgrounds in accounting for differences in student achievement. Yet, students of color and those from low-income families are most likely to receive the least experienced and least qualified teachers.
A coalition of forty organizations, including the Alliance for Excellent Education (the Alliance), believes that equalizing student access to high-quality teachers requires systemic changes to how the nation recruits, prepares, supports, and compensates teachers. Earlier this month, this diverse group launched TeachStrong, a new campaign organized by the Center for American Progress (CAP) to raise the stature of teaching in the United States.
At the same time, since September, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has approved plans from forty-two states and the District of Columbia designed to ensure that all students have equal access to effective educators. All but two of these approved teacher equity plans, commissioned as part of ED’s Excellent Educators for All Initiative, include provisions to support, strengthen, or modify state teacher preparation programs. Although ED’s Excellent Educators for All Initiative and the TeachStrong campaign are separate endeavors, both efforts demonstrate how policymakers and advocacy organizations are reimagining teacher preparation and career paths to provide students with more equitable access to top educators.
“Collectively, the [TeachStrong] coalition believes that all students, especially those from low-income families, deserve to be taught by great teachers,” according to a CAP statement about the campaign. “To accomplish this goal, the coalition believes that the United States must modernize and elevate the teaching profession and strengthen the entire teacher career continuum.”
The coalition, which includes teachers unions, teacher voice organizations, education policy leaders, education reform organizations, and civil rights groups, outlines nine principles to guide its efforts. The principles call for deliberate recruitment, stronger training, and higher standards for individuals who want to become teachers, emphasizing a need to diversify the teaching workforce and raise licensure requirements. Once they enter a classroom, teachers need “significantly more time, tools, and support” than they currently receive and more meaningful professional development, according to the TeachStrong principles. New teachers, specifically, need specialized support through induction and teacher residency programs. Additionally, teachers need higher salaries and career pathways that provide advancement opportunities that do not force teachers to leave the classroom. Meanwhile, the coalition wants to ensure that “tenure is a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment” for teachers. During the next year, coalition partners will promote TeachStrong’s nine principles through in-person events in key presidential primary states, online conversations, and social media.
“Through higher standards and expectations, we’re asking more of both teachers and students. But the systems that prepare, train, support, and compensate teachers haven’t been commensurately elevated,” writes Catherine Brown, CAP’s vice president of education policy, in an article explaining TeachStrong. “Tremendous consensus exists among our partners for the need to transform the teacher pipeline … so that teaching is more on par with medicine and law in terms of its stature in our society.”
That consensus may extend beyond the TeachStrong coalition as well. In October, the Alliance partnered with the National Association of State Boards of Education and the Center for Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes for Research to conduct a forum with seven states identified as having exemplary teacher equity plans for ED’s Excellent Educators for All Initiative. Many of the participating states expressed sentiments that echoed the TeachStrong principles. At the forum, “states agreed that establishing teaching as a true profession poses a central challenge in providing equitable educational opportunities for all students,” writes Mariana Haynes, senior fellow at the Alliance, in “Core of the Matter,” the Alliance’s blog series on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and struggling students. “That challenge is exacerbated by additional common hurdles including failure to attract strong teacher candidates, low and stagnant salaries, teachers’ inadequate preparation to work with the most challenging students, less desirable working conditions, and fewer opportunities for career advancement.”
As Dr. Haynes notes in her blog post, “[a]ddressing those challenges, though, requires significant changes in teacher preparation and induction, human capital management, and professional learning.” The teacher equity plans approved by ED include a variety of strategies to develop, recognize, and retain effective teachers. Twenty-one state plans include strategies that provide financial or other incentives designed to reward educators for exceptional work and encourage excellent educators to remain in high-need schools. Plans from states like Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, and Missouri, meanwhile, include strategies to improve teacher recruitment and retention. Teacher attrition costs the United States up to $2.2 billion annually, according to an Alliance report. ED currently is reviewing the remaining eight state plans and will determine which ones to approve on a rolling basis.
“All parents understand that strong teaching is fundamental to strong opportunities for their children. We as a country should treat that opportunity as a right that every family has—regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin, zip code, wealth, or first language,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says in a statement.
For more information about TeachStrong visit teachstrong.org. Additional information about ED’s Excellent Educators for All Initiative and individual state teacher equity plans is available at http://www2.ed.gov/programs/titleiparta/resources.html.