Written on: November 12th, 2015 in Education
Throughout history, there have been many unlikely pairs in politics. President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill had a meeting of the minds on tax reform; Sens. George McGovern and Bob Dole worked together on food stamps; and Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy drafted the original proposal for a Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
While today’s political discourse often seems hopelessly steeped in gridlock, sometimes an idea comes along that’s so obvious, so important and so worthwhile that it transcends political divides and brings elected leaders together.
As governors — one Republican, one Democrat — there are some issues we don’t see eye to eye on. But one thing we can wholeheartedly agree on is that when it comes to our students’ education, great teachers matter.
Research shows that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor affecting a student’s academic achievement, and students who are struggling academically or who come from low-income backgrounds benefit the most from excellent teaching.
Having access to high-quality teaching has significant economic benefits for students. Just moving from a classroom with a low-performing teacher to one whose performance is average for the academic year can mean an additional $50,000 in lifetime earnings per student, or $1.4 million per classroom.
Learning from other nations
Clearly, giving more students the opportunity to learn from excellent teachers should be a top priority for policymakers, as it has the potential to spur dramatic improvements in student outcomes. We know that this is true because other nations that perform highly on international assessments — like Finland, Korea, and Japan — and those that have seen dramatic improvements — like Canada and Poland — have made improving the systems that educate, train and develop teachers a high priority.
As governors, we’ve taken different approaches to improve the teacher pipeline in our states, reflecting our unique state circumstances.
Iowa is establishing the most extensive teacher leadership system in the nation, with two main goals: The first is better utilizing the expertise of many of our top teachers to improve instruction and raise student achievement. The second is attracting and retaining more outstanding teachers with new career pathways. That includes rewarding top teachers with higher pay for taking on leadership roles, such as instructional coaches who help analyze data, fine-tune instructional strategies and co-teach.
Working in greater collaboration with colleagues, teacher leaders provide embedded professional development in the classroom directly related to what students are learning. When Iowa’s new Teacher Leadership and Compensation System is fully phased in next school year, it will cost $150 million annually, with about 25% of Iowa teachers in leadership roles statewide. This investment is important because giving students a globally competitive education today requires making the most of principal and teacher leadership.
Meanwhile, Delaware has raised expectations for our college and university teacher preparation programs. That included higher criteria for student admissions, higher-quality student teaching experiences, a requirement that graduates pass a performance assessment, in addition to the traditional written exam, and a process to hold the state and individual programs accountable by tracking graduates.
Delaware has also upgraded in-school supports, including with professional learning communities that provide teachers up to 90 minutes a week to spend with a small group of peers dissecting data on which lessons and teaching techniques are having the greatest impact. And the state is working to transform Delaware’s educator compensation system to raise starting salaries, as well as to pay teachers more for taking on more responsibilities and working in high-need schools. The traditional system of paying only for years of experience and college degrees does not fully respect our teachers’ work.
Because we know how important this work is, we were thrilled to speak Tuesday at the launch of the Teach Strong campaign, a diverse group of 40 coalition partners working together to change the national education policy conversation and make modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the most pressing and significant education policy priority for our nation.
By putting forth a shared vision for improving our public schools, the campaign is working to depolarize the education policy landscape and lay the groundwork for the fundamental changes that are needed to dramatically improve student achievement.
Modernizing and elevating the teaching profession is the right thing to do for students and for teachers. As governors, we are working hard to achieve these goals, but more must be done. Improving the teacher pipeline needs to be a national imperative, starting today.