Teaching quality is a hot topic these days because research shows that teachers have a greater influence on student academic growth than any other factor, including class size, ethnicity, location or poverty. Several researchers have reached this conclusion, including William Sanders. His value-added assessment studies in Tennessee show that the residual effects of teachers (for better or worse) can be measured at least four years after a student leaves the classroom, regardless of the effectiveness of subsequent teachers.
Yet defining and measuring teacher quality is no easy task. States and districts usually describe it in terms of teacher credentials; likewise, No Child Left Behind defines "highly qualified" teachers as those who have met all state requirements for certification or licensure. Measuring teaching quality is difficult because most states do not have assessment systems that enable them to break out the effects of the school system, school and teacher over time, free of other variables that influence academic achievement, such as students' socioeconomic status and prior ability. This is the strength of the value-added assessment system used in Tennessee--a model that many other states are examining as they look to upgrade their own systems.
Improving the quality of teaching in your district, however, will require more than measuring it. A growing number of experts are drawing attention to the effects of the context or environment in which teachers learn and perform their work. The National Commission on Teaching & America's Future has recommended raising standards for teachers and students, reinventing teacher preparation and professional development, overhauling teacher recruitment, rewarding teaching knowledge and skill, and organizing schools for student and teacher success.
For districts looking to improve the quality of teaching, research offers the following guidance. Keep in mind that some of these suggestions will require long-term efforts and collaboration among the organizations that prepare, hire and represent teachers:
New teachers need more targeted, sustained support than they are getting New teachers cite "lack of support" as their top concern, according to the National Education Association. "Many schools are not organized to hire and support new teachers in ways that help them enter the profession smoothly and attain early success," according to new research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A third of new teachers are hired after the school year has started, half do not interview with their future teacher colleagues as part of the hiring practice, and slightly more than half say they get no extra assistance as new teachers.
All teachers need high-quality professional development The need for professional development doesn't go away as teachers gain experience. Both novice and veteran teachers benefit most from meeting together regularly to learn from one another. Administrative support in scheduling such time is crucial.
Hard-to-staff schools need special attention Closing the achievement gap will require that districts develop a strategic plan for improving the quality of teaching (and the retention of effective teachers) in high-poverty and high-minority schools. With turnover rates as high as 40 percent, this may require offering extensive support and rewards for teachers working to continuously improve these schools. While 34 states and the District of Columbia offer retention bonuses to veteran or accomplished teachers, only five of them gear those bonuses toward teachers in high-poverty, high-minority, or low-achieving schools."
A recent analysis of the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey shows that 14 percent of new teachers leave the field after their first year, and another 15 percent change schools. New teachers who received more induction support were much less likely to quit in the first year, but only 16 states require and finance induction programs for all new teachers. Fewer than 1 percent of new teachers had the most comprehensive support package (a mentor in the same field, seminars, common planning time with peers, teacher networks and administrative support). Only 11 percent had a reduced teaching schedule--a support commonly provided in other nations.
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