RESPECT: Will actions match words?

The merits of the Administration’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T. proposal are those ideas they have gotten from teachers, specifically from the recent Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching (CETT), whose chairperson, fifth grade teacher Maddie Fennell, was invited to speak at the end of Secretary Duncan’s announcement.

It’s not that we don’t know what needs to be done to improve teacher preparation and quality. We actually have much information and many good, workable ideas not only from the CETT report, but also from another Blue Ribbon Commission on teacher preparation that included representatives from all the stakeholders who would have to work together to make transforming the teaching profession a reality.  Sadly, unlike other countries, we have been unwilling to make a significant and lasting commitment to achieving a quality teaching force, which brings me to the primary demerit of the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. initiative: more competitive grants.

The Administration continues to promote inefficient competitive funding as its vehicle of choice for education reform. Consider the recent competition that left the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards—which has pioneered development of the highest quality standards for teachers and, now, administrators—without important funding, despite the Administration’s own glowing claims of how effective and important National Board Certified teachers are for students and as mentors to other teachers.  Also, grant cycles are usually too short to produce lasting, significant changes being sought. Sometimes, these projects generate a bump in temporary measures such as test scores, but that rise is more often a result of the synergy created by the ramp up to the grant and the sudden infusion of much needed resources.  Too often, these flashes of success plateau and decline once the grant cycle ends. Where is our real, bedrock commitment to teacher quality?

One of my Teacher Leader Network colleagues summed up the growing teacher skepticism about Secretary Duncan’s pronouncements:

“I believe his response to… the whole teacher leadership movement is to use our words and ideas, so that we feel heard, and so he can sound like he knows what he’s talking about…. Repeat what we say in speeches across the country. Then turn around and invest billions in more testing and data systems and other corporate interests he is somehow willing or obliged to cater to, that reduce teaching to test prepping. I would love to be wrong about this of course.”

These teacher sentiments have been echoed by others including Mary Tedrow, who served with me on the CETT.

Secretary Duncan is correct that teachers deserve more respect for the critical, difficult work we do. Transforming teaching in the United States into a true modern profession is necessary, possible, and overdue, but it will take more than borrowed phrases and transient grants.

Cross-posted at National Journal.com Education Experts

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