Quality for All

Daniel Ward introduces professional development options

“Teacher quality” has become such a catchphrase of educational policymakers in recent years that it now has many connotations. However, we can all agree that ongoing, professional development is a prerequisite to teacher quality.

In Obama’s Race to the Top program, it is included as one of the four main objectives, “recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most.”

During his recent State of the Union address, the President made clear that while there are many challenges facing America’s future, improving education is at the top of the list, and maybe the views of educators themselves will be taken into account now: In December, eight teachers from the VIVA (Voices, Ideas, Vision, Action) Project met at the Department of Education with U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan and his staff to discuss “Voices from the Classroom,” the VIVA Project’s National Task Force Report.

These eight teachers had registered online to become members of VIVA’s National Idea Mine and offered their thoughts to this question: “Each year, the federal government spends billions to promote teacher quality. If you were President Obama’s Secretary of Education, how would you direct these funds to meet the real-world classroom challenges of teachers and improve teacher quality and the effectiveness of professional development programs?”

For 30 days, hundreds of teachers offered ideas on how they would direct federal funds to improve “teacher quality” and then those ideas were voted on by their peers members.

Then, a small group of these teachers was assembled to serve as a task force to summarize the activity from the first phase and choose the most important ideas to be included in a report to Duncan. For the next six weeks, the Viva Project National Task Force spent hundreds of hours, while continuing their full-time jobs, preparing recommendations to Secretary Duncan.

Included in the report is a section entitled Clinical Training for Teachers which makes the following points:
There should be a national teacher education curriculum and all novice teachers should be given structured, systematic support — It is crucial that the quality of teacher education programs in the United States meet rigorous national standards that provide all teachers with an exceptional theoretical foundation, paired with research-based, hands-on clinical training. Ensuring every pre-service teacher meets the rigorous standards of a national curriculum ultimately results in novice teachers who walk through classroom doors each day fully prepared to make a lasting impact on student learning and achievement. Supporting novice teachers in their first two years in the classroom is critical to maintaining a strong foundation rooted in theory, practice, and reflection. Providing support in the form of master teachers, co-teaching opportunities, and increased time for collaboration and planning ensures that novice teachers will be successful in establishing learning environments that focus on increasing student achievement.

All teachers benefit from self-selected and differentiated professional development. Meaningful professional development opportunities for novice and experienced teachers best occur through self-selection from a professional development menu and result in increased implementation of research-based strategies. Tailoring professional development sessions to the needs of teachers allows the school to target the needs of their student body, while maximizing the time teachers have to effectively implement new strategies.

When teachers have a skill deficit which cannot be addressed by professional development or administrative support, they need “targeted teacher remediation” — Ineffective teachers require intensive, multi-week remediation on specialized topics to dramatically improve their classroom effectiveness. A single company or support organization using research-based, targeted remediation can help hundreds of teachers at multiple schools within a single school year positively impacting student learning.

Let’s hope that Secretary Duncan takes these recommendations on board.