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In President Obama’s State of the Union Address in January he began a discussion on reforming the professional world of teaching so it will provide more compensation and opportunities for advancement, allowing teachers to get the support and respect they deserve. “Teachers matter,” he proclaimed, “so instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal.”
The grounds for the new proposal are similar and based upon the progress of his competitive grant project that launched in 2011, “Race to the Top”. Last year’s $4 billion program was designed to reward schools who could hold down tuition costs and maintain their budgets. States and districts were also asked to work towards four additional ideals of reform:
• Implementing standards and assessments for students
• Building data systems for measuring student growth and success, and informing teachers and administrators on how they could improve instruction
• Recruiting, cultivating, rewarding and keeping effective teachers and administrators
• Helping turn around the lowest-achieving schools
“For less than one percent of what our Nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every State in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning – the first time that’s happened in a generation,” Obama said of the success of Race to the Top. The grant has been awarded to 12 states since its implementation.
In February Arne Duncan outlined the new $5 billion proposal, the RESPECT Project (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching). The project would be a competitive grant program framed much like Race to the Top.
“Educational success means that we are focused on improving student outcomes,” explained Duncan about the meanings that formed their acronym ‘RESPECT.’ “Professional excellence means that we are focused on continuously improving practice and recognizing, rewarding, and learning from great teachers and principals. And collaborative teaching means that we are focused on shared responsibility and creating schools where principals and teachers work together with their peers, support each other, hold each other accountable and lift each other to new levels of skill and competence.”
The overall goal of the project would be to improve the teaching profession by working from the ground up, and involving the teachers themselves in shaping policy. The reforms discussed include:
• Improving colleges of education and making them more selective to ensure quality
• Creating more opportunities for advancement for teachers, such as new leadership roles and responsibilities, so they can develop professionally, work collaboratively, and be given more autonomy
• Reforming compensation: tying compensation to performance, paying teachers more who work in tough environments, and making salaries competitive with other professions
• Using evaluation systems based on multiple measures instead of just test scores
• Reforming tenure to protect students and good teachers by promoting accountability and turning out less-efficient educators
“Give them [schools] the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn,” Obama said during his State of the Union Address. “Many of our schools of education are mediocre at best,” Duncan said. “Many teachers are poorly trained and isolated in their classrooms.”
Glenda Partee, an Associate Director for Teacher Quality in the Education team, writes, “This proposed initiative by the president, if fully funded by Congress and implemented well by states and school districts, will bring teaching into the 21st century as a dynamic profession competitive with other professions, where individuals are trained well, rewarded for their work in line with their effort and performance.”
“We need to change society’s views of teaching – from the factory model of yesterday to the professional model of tomorrow, where teachers are revered as thinkers, leaders, and nation-builders,” Duncan said. “No other profession carries a greater burden for securing our economic future. No other profession holds out more promise of opportunity to children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. And no other profession deserves more respect.”
Although the program has not yet been approved for the $5 billion, the national discussion has begun. Timothy Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, who has published on the topic of education reform before, commented that $5 billion is not enough to accomplish all of the ambitious goals the proposal addresses. He agrees, however, that any success with the project would be an important improvement.
“If universities are given incentives, we can get them to make the changes,” says Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College.
In May education leaders from around the country met for a conference this year— “Collaborating to Transform the Teaching Profession.” Education leaders from over 100 school districts and from 41 states met in Cincinnati, Ohio to discuss labor-management solutions. Also in May the U.S. Department of Education released a “RESPECT Vision” document, a teacher-written compilation of ideas for making “America’s most important profession also America’s most valued profession,” which they have made available for viewing and commenting. The information is a compilation from over 200 roundtable discussions for input on how to transform the teaching profession.
“We need to redefine what it means to teach in today's interconnected global economy because what you learn in school today is only the foundation for what you will need to know tomorrow to be successful,” Duncan said. “I am absolutely convinced that the future of the teaching profession and the future of our nation are inextricably linked.”
The answer to what “success for the future” is depends on the individual. Each person has their own vision of what tomorrow should look like. At the very least, a good education can provide someone with the tools towards achieving that vision.
360 Education Solutions will be monitoring for progress on Obama’s education reform proposal, check back for updates in the fall.
Janel Spencer is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions