Wednesday, November 19, 2014

We Must Do Better - Part 3

       This post is part three of a three-part series titled We Must Do Better.

       I love public schools; and there is a lot to cheer about when it comes to the ability of public schools to prepare students for their futures.  But there are three major areas in which public schools must improve if we want to see ourselves as providing a world-class education to our nation's children.

       1) We must raise the achievement of poor children.

       2) We must increase graduation rates.

       3) We must provide continuous, high-quality professional development to our teachers.

       It isn't that there aren't other areas that can and should improve in our public schools.  But improvement in these three areas are absolutely critical if we truly want our school system to be exceptional and of the highest quality for all of our students.


We Must Do Better

Part 3 - Continuous, high-quality professional development for teachers

       The subjects of the first two parts of this series--the achievement of poor children and the need to increase high school graduation rates--dealt with issues of which many people are aware.  They are discussed in journals and newspapers often.  The subject of this part is considerably less well discussed in the mainstream press and much less well known among the general public.

       When discussing elements of the education that influence student achievement, researchers agree that the ability of the teacher is among the most important factors.  The Center for Public Education has stated:
A growing body of research shows that student achievement is more heavily influenced by teacher quality than by students’ race, class, prior academic record, or school a student attends. This effect is particularly strong among students from low-income families and African American students.
Of course, just about any person who has ever had the experience of being a student can tell you that good teachers have helped them to learn much better than poor teachers that they have had.  Hence, there is very little debate that high-quality teachers in the classroom will lead to higher student achievement.  And so the next logical question is, How do we ensure that every teacher will be highly-able and highly-effective in every classroom?

       A good place to start is the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.  In January of 2013, the NBPTS celebrated its 100,000th National Board Certified Teacher.  After 25 years of looking at the teaching profession and looking at research on developing high-ability teachers, the NBPTS has established five core propositions that represent what "all accomplished teachers share in their expertise and dedication to advance student achievement."

       We know that the best teachers are constantly learning and constantly improving.  They build on past successes and even learn from past mistakes.  They constantly search for better ways to reach every student.

       Teachers need regular opportunities to meet with other teachers to talk about what they do with other teachers.  This professional learning community helps to build teacher ability--which, in turn, leads to higher student achievement.  Its hard work to constantly improve.  You can't merely give a teacher a book or article to read.  They have to think about students; think about classroom strategies; think about questions to ask students; anticipate answers and areas where students will struggle.  They have to try new things and make mistakes and try again and make new mistakes...and try again.

       As a nation, we need to help to provide all teachers with high-quality professional development.  And it needs to occur on a regular and ongoing basis.  It can't be one or two days a year.  It must be ongoing if we really intend to see improvement over time.  Its hard.  It costs money.  It can look different for different teachers or for schools that teach to different student communities.  As with so many things in life, professional development is understood to be necessary, but delivering it in a meaningful way is a challenge.

Public Schools and Choice

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