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What Next? Education Innovation and Philadelphia's School of the Future

Harvard Education Press, $29.95

Female elementary school teachers may project a fear of math onto their female students, causing them to do poorly in the subject, according to a new study, "Female Teachers' Math Anxiety Impacts Girls' Math Achievement," published by the University of Chicago in January.

The great teacher exodus is upon us, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), an organization that promotes quality teaching in schools. "Who Will Teach? Experience Matters," released by the organization in January 2010, notes that between 2004 and 2008 more than 300,000 veteran teachers left the workforce. New teachers, however, have a steep turnover rate, making it a struggle to fill the void.

A new report by the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (TQ Center) highlights efforts across the nation to address a key point in the No Child Left Behind law and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARR A)—the equitable distribution of high-quality teachers across all schools.

Teacher quality is the most crucial component in promoting student learning. For all the controversy about No Child Left Behind, one underlying emphasis of the federal law that is irrefutable is the importance placed on teacher quality. Therefore, a school organization committed to excellence must recruit and select outstanding teachers. The Obama administration also recognizes the importance of teacher quality. Teacher excellence is a foundation of the Race to the Top funds, competitive grants available to states as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

As a middle and high school math teacher for 14 years in the Norman (Okla.) School District and Dallas (Texas) Independent School District, Cathleen Norris at first thought the idea of using cell phones in a classroom was absurd. “Are you kidding?” she asked. “Would I want that distraction? That would make me crazy.”

For retired teacher Georgette Charlton, heading back to school wasn’t a difficult decision: “A person never really leaves education if you’re a true educator. It’s always there.” Across the nation, schools increasingly are tapping into a vast resource pool—retired educators.

When students fail courses or drop out of school, it isn’t good for them or their districts, which are under federal and state mandates to improve test scores and graduation rates. With those mandates and about 1.2 million students dropping out each year—or one every 26 seconds—“there is more pressure today than ever to help students stay in school and graduate on time,” according to Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Jane, a high school principal, decides that it is time to change the daily schedule of classes for the next school year. Her goal is to maximize instructional time. Many staff members like the current schedule. It rewards the most senior teachers with the best sequence of classes. Other teachers are ambivalent, as they have accepted the status quo. In proposing a major change like this, a leader will often face intense opposition from those with the most to lose, while those with the most to gain will sit on the fence.

In December, President-elect Barack Obama selected Chicago’s Dodge Renaissance Academy, a 400-student pre-K8 school, as the backdrop for choosing Arne Duncan, the Chicago Public Schools’ CEO, as the nation’s new secretary of education. Touted as a “turnaround school,” Dodge represented the idea that if change could come to a high-poverty, failing school with low test scores and most students on free or reduced-price lunches, then there was hope for all schools.

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