Teachers and Leaders: America's Engineers of Learning and Growth

Teachers and Leaders: America's Engineers of Learning and Growth

"From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents, it's the person standing at the front of the classroom... America's future depends on its teachers."

— President Barack Obama, March 10, 2009

Research has shown that the most important school-based factor impacting a child's academic success is the quality of the classroom teacher, followed closely by the strength of the school leader. To help prepare our students to be engaged citizens and meet the demands of the increasingly complex and global economy, we need better systems to recruit, prepare, support, retain, and reward outstanding teachers and leaders in America's schools.

The need

Every parent knows the difference a great teacher makes. And research bears out the enormous good that skilled, well-trained teachers can do.

One excellent teacher can move a child ahead about half a year more than a low-skilled teacher; several strong teachers in a row can have impact that overwhelms racial and economic achievement gaps. Yet, too many students lack access to such excellent teachers, and too many good teachers leave the field. Nearly half of individuals who begin a career in teaching leave the profession within the first five years. This turnover rate costs the nation more than $7 billion each year. Those who do remain in the field often struggle within an outdated, inflexible system that does little to differentiate between educators who are minimally effective and those who are highly effective. Too many students do not have access to the teachers and leaders who can best help them to break through the barriers of poverty and circumstance. Yet, great teachers and outstanding principals can set students on a path of success—an impact that produces a lifetime of benefits for both individual students and our nation.

Great Teachers Matter: Teachers in the top 20 percent of performance generate five to six more months of student learning each year than low-performing teachers.

The goal

Throughout the country, great principals must lead every school and great teachers must lead each classroom. In advancing this goal, the President has sought to elevate teachers and leaders. Doing so will require nationwide focus on recognizing, encouraging, and rewarding excellence. It will require creating school environments where teachers and leaders have time to collaborate and opportunities to lead and grow as professionals.

The plan

The President's plan continues and builds on a significant focus on teaching and learning from the Obama administration's first term.

The RESPECT Project: In 2012, the administration officially launched the RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching) Project, kicking off a national conversation to develop a shared vision for transforming the teaching profession with teachers, principals, parents, and other stakeholders. In 2013, the Department released the Blueprint for RESPECT that resulted from these discussions. The reform areas proposed in the RESPECT Blueprint mirror those included in a landmark shared vision statement for transforming the teaching profession, co-written by leaders of national organizations representing teachers, district and state superintendents, and school boards, with the Department of Education. These areas include: 1.) building a culture of shared responsibility and leadership; 2.) attracting top talent and preparing them well; 3.) providing rich opportunities for teachers to learn and grow over the course of their careers; 4.) measuring teacher and principal effectiveness and providing support and ongoing feedback; 5.) creating professional career pathways with competitive compensation; 6.) improving working conditions for teachers and leaders; and 7.) engaging with school and parent communities.

Title II Grants: Greater returns on federal investments in teaching can be achieved by refocusing and improving the impact of Title II grants, which primarily fund educator professional development and class size reduction. Under the administration's Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization proposal, states and districts that receive Title II grants would target funds to improving the effectiveness of teachers and leaders, working in collaboration with educators and aligning activities with an evidence base. States and districts also would be held accountable for equitably distributing teachers deemed to be effective under those evaluation systems. In addition, the proposal would set aside 25 percent of Title II funds for competitive grants to support and expand high-quality teacher training programs, programs that effectively prepare principals to turn around low-performing schools, and state efforts to enhance the teaching profession.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Teachers: The Obama administration recognizes the importance of STEM education in the effort to secure the long-term competitiveness of this country. The President's plan strengthens the federal investment in STEM education, supporting the recruitment and preparation of effective STEM teachers for high-need schools. The plan also includes a pilot National STEM Master Teacher Corps. This initiative would identify, share, and expand models to help transform thousands of excellent STEM teachers into national STEM teacher-leaders, who will help to improve STEM teaching and learning nationwide.

Presidential Teaching Fellows: This initiative would finance scholarships of up to $10,000 for talented students in the final year of an effective state teacher preparation program. Students would commit to teaching a high-need subject in a high-need school for at least three years.

The President's Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Proposal

The Obama Administration has proposed significant investments that support teachers and leaders who are doing the hard, daily work in classrooms and communities. Key requests include:

  • ConnectEDucators ($200 million): This program would support educators' transition to using technology and data to personalize learning and improve college- and career-ready instruction and assessment. The goal of the program is to ensure that teachers and leaders are provided with access to high-speed Internet and devices for students, including those supported through the administration's ConnectED initiative. The program also aims to ensure that teachers are well prepared to use these resources in a way that improves classroom instruction and student learning. Learn more about ConnectEDucators.
  • RESPECT Grants ($5 billion): Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching (RESPECT) grants would provide targeted support for teachers and leaders by improving preparation and early career assistance, giving teachers and leaders opportunities to develop and advance as they lead the transition to college- and career-ready standards, and ensuring that teachers have a supportive environment built around shared collaboration. This request would support up to 1,000 grants to states and districts to invest in needed improvements to the education profession, reaching up to 1.6 million teachers.
  • Excellent Instructional Teams ($2.3 billion): These grants would provide both formula and competitive awards to help states and districts increase the effectiveness of teachers and principals. Among the proposals are:
    • Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants ($2 billion): These grants would help states, districts, and schools to improve teacher and principal evaluation systems and to ensure low-income and minority students have equitable access to effective teachers and leaders. The would allow the Department to invest 10 percent of funds for national activities that build evidence on how to recruit, prepare, and support effective teachers and leaders and to invest in efforts to enhance teaching and leadership professions.
    • Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund ($320 million): This funding would help states and districts improve the effectiveness of teachers and leaders in high-need schools by reforming teachers and school leader advancement and compensation systems.
    • School Leadership Program ($35 million): This program would support school leaders by strengthening their understanding of college- and career-ready standards and instruction and promoting evidence-based professional development.

Learn more