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

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. 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. Yet, too many students do not have access to the teachers and leaders who can best help them succeed, regardless of background or circumstance. 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.

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 by promoting a nationwide focus on recognizing, encouraging, and rewarding excellence while supporting the creation of 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 has 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 program performance is measured.

The Department's policies and programs related to teachers and school leaders are 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 with teachers, principals, parents, and other stakeholders to develop a shared vision for transforming the teaching profession.

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.

Support for Teachers and Leaders in the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget

The President's 2017 budget request includes several requests aimed at preparing, developing and retaining great teachers and leaders, including:

  • Respect: Best Job in the World: This new program would make a $1 billion investment to support a nationwide effort to dramatically change the ability of high-needs schools to attract and retain the teachers they need. This initiative challenges states and local educational agencies to ensure that working in high-needs schools is a step into a great place to work and a step up in an educator's career ladder. By increasing compensation for effective teachers, leveraging teacher leadership to improve working conditions and learning climates, and providing the time and support to teachers to improve their craft, this proposal will allow districts to better attract and retain effective educators where they are needed most.
  • Teacher and Principal Pathways program: This $125 million investment would help colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations—in partnership with schools and districts—to create or expand pathways into the teaching profession. The Teacher and Principal Pathways program focuses on high-needs schools and subjects, especially science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
  • Teach to Lead grants: The Obama Administration has made it a priority to invest in efforts that support teachers in leading from the classroom, acknowledging that teachers are true experts in their field. Teach to Lead grants—a $10 million investment—would provide direct support to teachers who develop innovative reforms with the potential for wider impact on improving student outcomes. These grants are a continuation of the Teach to Lead effort, including convenings held throughout 2015, during which time teachers worked together to brainstorm solutions to challenges facing their schools and students.
  • Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grants program: As part of the Department's existing efforts to cultivate talent at high-needs schools, this $250 million program will support efforts to develop, implement, or expand human capital management systems or performance-based compensation systems in schools to help them attract, develop, support, and retain great teachers.
  • Supporting Effective Educator Development: With our $100 million investment, nonprofits will provide high-quality, evidence-based educator preparation or professional development activities that truly impact student achievement and success.
  • Consolidated, simplified student loan forgiveness for teachers: Finally, the budget proposal includes a new initiative—which would consolidate several underutilized postsecondary assistance options, like TEACH grants and the current teacher loan forgiveness program—into a new, more generous program. This program would provide up to $25,000 in student loan forgiveness for teachers beginning when they complete a high-quality preparation program and provide increased forgiveness each year they teach in a high-needs school, until the maximum is reached.

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