Last year the National Education Association (NEA) took a courageous step by creating a Council on Effective Teachers and Teaching (CETT) and giving them independence and power to make recommendations to transform the teaching profession. On December 8, they moved forward by releasing the commission’s report. In doing so, NEA leaders showed themselves to be serious partners in reform and strong advocates for students and teachers.
The CETT’s report, Transforming Teaching, was written by 20 practicing teachers who took a year to think creatively and imaginatively about how to reform their profession. Their recommendations call for teachers to take on the enormous responsibility to lead their profession in new directions. It treads in some controversial waters–minimizing tenure and last-in, first out practices–in favor of peer review and a focus on identifying, developing and supporting effective teaching.
As Maddie Fennell, CETT’s chair, says, “For educators to be recognized by the public as professionals, they must create a field that has an identifiable body of knowledge, that trains teachers in that knowledge, and that decides who is able enter and exit the field. We–as a profession–don’t do these things.”
CETT has several core recommendations to transform this vision of teaching into a reality, including changes in the way teachers are prepared, evaluated and compensated. The report describes a compensation system under which teachers are paid as professionals based on their effectiveness in the classroom and on their career path, not by current method of rewarding them for degrees earned and years in the classroom. The commission believes that teachers should be evaluated using student growth as one of several measures. Others could include peer review, principal observations, and student or parent feedback. And teachers need to be involved in making school decisions so that professional learning is targeted to teachers’ needs and reflects the realities of the classroom.
The commission’s report reflects what is happening in states and school districts across the country. My home state of Illinois recently passed a new law that tackles some of the most important issues facing the teaching profession, such as when to grant tenure, how to identify teachers who need support and development, and how to use our best teachers to improve instruction in other classrooms. Following the release the CETT report, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said, “It’s up to us to own our own profession. I think the union is an important part of that.” And Maddie Fennell affirmed, “The boldness will come from those who choose to do the work to make this vision a reality.”
I applaud the leadership that the NEA has shown in creating this commission and releasing the initial report, and I look forward to following the NEA’s work in the future.
Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education