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 Those who do remain in the field often struggle within an outdated, inflexible system that does little to differentiate between educators who are minimally effective and those who are highly effective.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

High-quality teacher preparation matters. According to one study that compared the impact of top-performing teacher preparation programs to the lowest-performing program, the impact on student learning gains in mathematics from teacher preparation was considerably greater than the impact of poverty. The Department of Education recently proposed regulations aimed at helping to ensure that teacher training programs prepare educators who are ready to succeed in the classroom. The proposal builds on reforms and innovations already happening at the state and program levels across the country and by national organizations like the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The regulations shift the focus from mostly inputs to outcomes—such as how graduates are doing in the classroom—while giving states flexibility to determine how they will use the new measures and how program performance is measured.

The Department’s policies and programs related to teachers and school leaders is driven by the understanding that educators must be partners in—and help to lead—progress in our nation’s public schools. In 2012, the Obama Administration launched the RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching) Project, which kicked off a national conversation to develop a shared vision for transforming the teaching profession with teachers, principals, parents, and other stakeholders.

One important outgrowth of this national conversation is Teach to Lead, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Teach to Lead aims to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership, particularly those that allow teachers to stay in the classroom. The initiative seeks to: highlight existing state and district systems that are working to support teacher leadership; share resources to create new opportunities for teacher leadership; and encourage people at all levels to commit to expanding teacher leadership.

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.

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