Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 3:47 pm | Fair 76º


Bill Cirone: Teacher Quality At the Root of What Matters In a Classroom

We need to develop and deploy the next generation of educators through effective, well-designed efforts.

It seems so self-evident, and might even seem simplistic, but the fact has always remained that educational quality falls or rises according to the skilled professional at the front of the classroom.

For all the time, effort, research and discussion regarding educational reform and improving our schools, the root of all that matters is the quality of our teachers.

Bill Cirone
This is the premise and the focus of work by James Hunt Jr., a former governor of North Carolina, and Thomas Kean, a former governor of New Jersey and a president emeritus of Drew University. Both are advisers to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in Princeton, N.J., and helped in the establishment of Princeton’s new teaching fellowship program.

The two authors wrote in a recent edition of Education Week: “Regardless of what happens with NCLB (No Child Left Behind), in its uncertain reauthorization, it will be up to states to take ownership of the teacher-quality agenda.”

They suggest that while many states already have been working to strengthen teacher education and mentoring, including California, I might add, all states need to devise ways to bring highly motivated individuals into the teaching profession and keep them there.

The fact is that many teachers enter the classroom with insufficient training and exit the profession quickly, leaving much instability. As Linda Darling-Hammond wrote: “This constant attrition of under-prepared teachers creates a harmful cycle in which students in poor schools are constantly learning form inexperienced and less-effective teachers.”

The strategy used by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation involves four actions: recruit, pay, place, support. Specifically, it advocates recruiting top undergraduates and those changing careers, paying them to complete an intensive master’s program that is based in the classroom (rather than the theoretical halls of a college), placing them in the schools that need them most desperately, and supporting and mentoring them throughout the process.

The program involves four important actions.

First, it advocates using incentives to encourage education schools to raise their standards. The current system of teacher preparation hasn’t been up to the task of fully preparing individuals who wish to teach. To change the culture and improve the programs, the writers say states should target resource to programs that showcase innovative methods of preparing teachers, and support graduates in partnership with the public schools.

Second, the program advocates using private resources as further leverage to raise quality, helping ensure that money is directed to institutions that demonstrate they deserve new resources.

Third, there is a need to focus on hard-to-staff fields. The idea is that keeping a narrow focus on high-need areas, such as math and science, can create enough new teachers to make a real difference.

Finally, there is a need to strengthen the role of teacher education programs in mentoring and supporting graduates. The authors wrote: “One of the greatest deficiencies of education schools is the disconnection of faculty expertise, teacher education courses and clinical experience from the realities of classrooms. Equally troubling is the lack of follow-through in supporting and assessing graduates’ performance.” From this flows the need to support and mentor graduates, standing with them as they launch their careers, and tracking their effectiveness.

Teacher quality is the root of all that matters in a classroom, and the challenge of ensuring this quality cannot be met through a quick fix, as the authors attest. We need to develop and deploy the next generation of teachers in an effective, well-crafted manner. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation seems well positioned to support and encourage these efforts. Their bold new proposals should be taken very seriously.

Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

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