The Challenge: In order to prepare our young people to be engaged citizens, to compete in the global job market, and to keep up with both persistent and emerging challenges facing our country, the United States must ensure that teaching is a highly respected and supported profession, that accomplished, effective teachers guide students' learning in every classroom, and that effective principals lead every school.
Despite the fact that teaching is intellectually demanding, rigorous, and complex work, too often American educators are not treated like professionals. They receive little classroom experience before certification, and once in the profession, they are not supported, compensated or promoted based on their talents and accomplishments. Too often teachers and principals operate at schools with a factory culture, where inflexible work rules discourage innovation and restrict teachers' opportunities to work together as a team and to take on leadership roles. As a result, the field of education is not highly regarded – many of America's brightest young college graduates never consider entering the field,i and others leave prematurely, while too many of our own students are left without the education they need to thrive in the 21st century.
The Vision: It is time for a sweeping transformation of the profession. We must develop innovations in the way we recruit, prepare, credential, support, advance, and compensate teachers and principals. As in other high-performing countries, our schools of education must be both more selective and more rigorous. To attract top students into the profession, and to keep talented teachers from leaving, we must dramatically increase potential earnings for teachers. We must create career and leadership opportunities that enable teachers to grow their roles and responsibilities without leaving the classroom, and we must intentionally develop teachers who are gifted managers into school leaders and principals. Rather than linking teacher compensation solely to years of service or professional credentials, teachers' pay should reflect the quality of their work and the scope of their professional responsibility. To ensure that the students who need the best teachers and principals get them, salaries should also reflect taking on the additional challenges of working in high-need schools (urban and rural) or in hard-to-staff subjects, and care should be given to ensure that teachers in these schools are well supported by principals in a positive school culture that values their expertise.
To transform the profession, we envision a school model and culture built on shared responsibility and on-going collaboration, rather than a top-down authoritarian style. Our call for historic improvements in the professional opportunities and compensation of teachers and principals is matched by an equally dramatic effort to change how teaching is organized and supported. We see schools staffed with effective principals who are fully engaged in developing and supporting teachers, who involve teachers in leadership decisions, and who provide teachers with authentic, job-embedded professional learning. Likewise, we see families working in partnership with schools, where parents are welcome by the school and where they respect the efforts of educators to teach their children. Finally, we see schools made stronger by embracing community resources; and we envision communities that become more robust as they are anchored around highly effective schools.
Teachers and school leaders work every day with our nation's children – an intrinsically rewarding and joyful job. We need to redesign the profession and the working conditions so we unleash the inherent joy in teaching and learning, enable innovation in our schools and classrooms, and deliver the outcomes that our children deserve and our country's future demands. Moving towards this vision will require tough choices and a willingness to embrace change, but the urgency and the opportunity for real and meaningful progress have never been greater.
Our Plan/the RESPECT Project. To support this vision, the U.S. Department of Education has begun working with educators–teachers, school and district leaders, teachers' associations and unions, and state and national education organizations–to spark a national conversation about transforming teaching for the 21st century. We call it the RESPECT Project. RESPECT stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching. Educational Success recognizes our commitment to improving student outcomes. Professional Excellence means that we will promote continuously sharpen our practice, and that we will recognize, reward, and learn from great teachers and principals. Collaborative Teaching means that we will concentrate on shared responsibility and decision-making. Successful collaboration means creating schools where principals and teachers work and learn together in communities of practice, hold each other accountable, and lift each other to new levels of skill and competence.
There is no one path to success. Different districts, schools, principals, and teachers will take different pathways to achieving the vision. Our goal is for a national conversation about the RESPECT Project to serve as a catalyst for remaking education on a grand scale. To do so, we must lift up the accomplished teachers in our classrooms and bring in a new generation of well-prepared, bright young men and women. Together these teachers will make teaching a valued and respected profession on par with medicine, law, and engineering. We must staff our schools with strong principals who nurture and develop great teaching. And we must take a whole-system approach to support these teachers and principals in our schools. By transforming the teaching profession, this country's most important work will become our most valued work.
i. McKinsey Top Talent