Don’t leave teacher training, support to chance

Last week I had the pleasure of catching up with dear old friends during a trip up north. As their daughters geared up to return to school, my friend Marsha shared an observation about why her daughter’s public school does such a fine job.

“The teachers are great – and that’s what really matters,” Marsha said.

Marsha’s observation resonated. High academic standards, a rich curriculum, adequate funding – all of these factors are important in why some schools succeed and others don’t.

But none of them matters as much as the quality of a school’s teaching. Teachers – today’s undervalued heroes in our society – are the force that brings all of these components together to nourish our students to ensure they succeed.

Over the last decade, research has demonstrated this over and over: Teachers are the most significant in-school factor in student learning. This means that, of all of the things that schools can control – including class size, curriculum and text books – the quality of teaching a child receives is the strongest predictor of student achievement. Low-income students who have effective teachers over multiple years can actually beat the odds – and close the achievement gap with higher-income students.

In a state like Michigan, that is nothing less than remarkable. Our Great Lakes State, so rich in natural beauty and abundant water, lacks such abundance when it comes to great schools. Our state has declined dramatically in student learning compared with other states around the country in the last decade. We have among the worst achievement gaps in the nation. Even our non-Latino white and higher-income students are lagging increasingly behind their demographic peers in other states, not to mention other countries.

Over the last year, my organization – a team of Michiganders dedicated to raising achievement for all of our state’s students – has taken a look at what leading states around the country are doing to raise learning. These include Maryland, Massachusetts and Florida. These states have made remarkable learning gains for their students. Their state-level educational strategies are quite varied.

What they share in common is their willingness to invest in, and implement, smart strategies to improve the quality of the teaching in their classrooms. They aren’t simply saying to districts: “Good luck with this,” as Michigan has largely done over the last decade.

In other words, they aren’t leaving teaching quality to chance.

In the coming months, Michigan has two important, mutually dependent opportunities for our state to better support and train teachers, to hold them accountable thoughtfully and fairly, and to raise learning in all of our public schools.

These moments are rare in our state’s history. We need to seize them.

The first opportunity is the development and implementation of Michigan’s first statewide system of educator support and evaluation. An international teacher preparation leader, Deborah Ball of the University of Michigan, led a group of education experts to develop a blueprint for this system. Now the legislature needs to approve it and fund it – and state leaders need to ensure thoughtful implementation.

The second opportunity is the legislative funding and implementation of the Common Core State Standards. This state-led effort provides clear information to educators and parents on what students need to know at each grade level to be successful after high school, whether in a college or career. This change is already beginning to result in teachers and districts raising the quality of their instruction. It requires the state to support high-quality testing that’s aligned with Common Core – testing that will allow parents to know how their children’s schools stack up with schools across Michigan, and around the nation.

At first glance, these two initiatives may seem unrelated. In fact, their success is deeply intertwined.

The new statewide educator evaluation and support system is the vehicle through which Michigan teachers will get the feedback, data, and training they need to raise the level of their instruction so all students will be able to meet the higher standards of Common Core. If done right, teachers’ annual evaluations will include multiple classroom observations of teachers’ instruction, analysis and helpful conversations on how much their students are learning, and professional development targeted to where teachers need help most.

The data and training teachers receive should be based on Common Core standards which, if done well, will improve our students’ critical-thinking skills and provide an opportunity for all students to succeed after high school. We need to make sure we invest in helping teachers effectively learn how to teach at higher levels.

Ultimately, the best standards in the world do not teach students. Teachers do.

Like our students, they are worth our investment.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Comments

Carolyle Towers
Thu, 09/12/2013 - 9:10am
In addition to your "big two," I would add the importance of "frontloading" teacher education by making it a profession of the best and brightest, where teacher education is a curriculum folks compete fiercely to enter, like medicine and law. Finland is reaping rewards with this approach . After 27 years in the classroom, I'd like to see this approach planned for and implemented over the years it would take to accomplish.
Charles Richards
Thu, 09/12/2013 - 12:56pm
Perhaps Ms. Towers caught the NPR interview with Amanda Ripley whose book " The Smartest Kids in the World - and how they got that way, is about the remarkable success some countries have had by limiting admission to schools of education to the top ten percent of students in Finland and five percent for primary school teachers in Poland.
Chuck Jordan
Fri, 09/13/2013 - 12:05pm
The U.S. will not pay for highly qualified teachers. Education for all is not a priority here. Teacher evaluations are a good idea, but there are a lot of big ifs in this article.
Richard Hooker
Thu, 09/12/2013 - 10:00am
I have never worked as a classroom teacher and my views are my own and not those of any group or organization. I agree that teaching is a profession and should be treated as such, both as to status and compensation. With that status and the compensation, however, comes corresponding responsibility, including: * Teaching with just a bachelors degree? - This is not possible for lawyers and doctors, and not advisable for several other professions, so it shouldn't be possible for most teachers; * A required regimen of Continuing Education/Certification is imperative; * Summers off? - Every other profession works year-round, so should teachers; and * Performance standards - every other profession has a State Board or other authority to which its members are answerable under defined standards, so should the teaching profession.
Jan of MI
Sun, 09/15/2013 - 11:38am
"Teaching with just a bachelors degree? – This is not possible for lawyers and doctors, and not advisable for several other professions, so it shouldn’t be possible for most teachers; * A required regimen of Continuing Education/Certification is imperative; * Summers off? – Every other profession works year-round, so should teachers; and * Performance standards – every other profession has a State Board or other authority to which its members are answerable under defined standards, so should the teaching profession." Mr. Hooker. Michigan has the requirement that teachers get continuing education credits in order to renew their certificates. Most teachers choose to get their masters because by the time you complete the requirements for Continuing Educations Hours you have enough hours for a Masters. Did you know the MI legislature has wanted to remove extra pay for advanced certification? This is a disincentive for teachers to seek an expensive advanced degree. The majority of teachers have summers off. They often participate in curriculum development, summer programs for students as well as completing their continuing educations requirements. And Michigan does have a State Board of Education as well as The Michigan Department of Education. There are standards for teachers.
Charles Richards
Thu, 09/12/2013 - 12:46pm
After reciting a number of factors that are important to a school's success, Ms. Arellano correctly says, "But none of them matters as much as the quality of a school’s teaching." So, why don't we have better teachers? Charles Wheelan, in his book Naked Economics, says, "The pay of American teachers is not linked in any way to performance; teachers' unions have consistently opposed any kind of merit pay. Instead, salaries in nearly every public school district in the country are determined by a rigid formula based on experience and years of schooling, factors that researchers have found to be generally unrelated to performance in the classroom. This uniform pay scale creates a set of incentives that economists refer to as adverse selection. Since the most talented teachers are also likely to be good at other professions, they have a strong incentive to leave education for jobs in which pay is more closely linked to productivity. For the least talented, the incentives are just the opposite. The theory is interesting; the data are amazing. When test scores are used as a proxy for ability, the brightest individuals shun the teaching profession at every juncture. The brightest students are the least likely to choose education as a college major. Among students who do major in in education, those with higher test scores are less likely to become teachers. And among individuals who enter teaching, those with the highest test scores are the most likely to leave the profession early. None of this proves that America' teachers are being paid enough. Many of them are not, especially those gifted individuals who stay in the profession because they love it. But the general problem remains: Any system that pays all teachers the same provides a strong incentive for the most talented among them to look for work elsewhere." Ms. Arellano says, " If done right, teachers’ annual evaluations will include multiple classroom observations of teachers’ instruction, analysis and helpful conversations on how much their students are learning, and professional development targeted to where teachers need help most." But how much training and professional development should we invest in less than talented individuals when a better long term approach would be to emulate Finland and insist that only the top ten percent of students can be admitted to schools of education? Or copy Poland which allows only the top five percent to become primary school teachers?
Peggy La Fleur
Thu, 09/12/2013 - 12:55pm
As a result of Finland's approach to the teaching profession, I have read, teachers are respected and their work is valued. Simultaneously, the student achievement is higher than most any other country. I think that teachers can be hired with a bachelors degree with the requirement of continuing education/certification. Prior to completing the bachelors degree teacher preperation programs must require at least a nine month student teaching experience. There is a need for classroom management skills. I would like to see the K-12 school year become year-round with periodic breaks. Teachers could then spend less time with remedial instruction and get the break they need from teaching and child-care. Lawyers and doctors don't spend five days a week overseeing the same group of 20 - 30 people who are in developmental stages of life. Employers and the work-world would need to make adjustments for child care and parental needs. It can be done.
nana63
Thu, 09/12/2013 - 8:14pm
to improve the quality of teacher preparation, several reforms must be made . 1. pre-testing candidates for schools of education(such is done for doctors, lawyers and nurses), 2. introduction of practical experience in the first year to coincide with the theoretical instruction and 3. making the teacher legally liable(mal-practice insurance), for their performance.
Tracy Davis
Thu, 09/12/2013 - 8:21pm
"Teachers – today’s undervalued heroes in our society – are the force that brings all of these components together to nourish our students to ensure they succeed." I disagree; I think that nourishing to ensure success is the role of a parent, the teacher is one of the tools the parent uses in that quest. Our education system is not broken (look at all of the young adults that are succeeding), our parenting skills are.
Duane
Thu, 09/12/2013 - 11:02pm
I notice that Ms. Allerano never mentions what the student contributes to their learning, nothing about the student's role/reponsibilities. "Teachers are the most significant in-school factor in student learning." The student is the most significant factor in their learning. If it isn't the student then why are there Dr. Ben Carsons from schools like Detroit who had the same teachers, in the same classroom, from poor economic environments while others fail? "...the quality of teaching a child receives is the strongest predictor of student achievement." If this were so then explain why some fail inspite of it and others succeed without it. "Ultimately, the best standards in the world do not teach students. Teachers do." Wrong, students do. For if learning were simply due to what the teacher did then their would be no value in homework, all the students would have to do would be to watch and listen. Maybe it is my limited experience, but it seems that the doing is when the student learns. It is when the mind applies all of what others say and show that it is actually learns. As long as Ms. Allerano and other place the teacher, the classroom size, the pay for the systems above the students role/responsibilities in importance in the students' learning the result of our school system/teachers will not change the result that everyone likes to talk about. I wonder if Ms. Allerano has ever wonder why or how students succeed even when they haven't had what she is advocating?