Tackling the tough to-dos

How can we improve teaching effectiveness in America? Policy pundits have given us a list of to-dos: Evaluate teachers on test scores. Jettison teacher tenure. Scrap last-in-first-out policies.

How can we improve teaching effectiveness in America? Policy pundits have given us a list of to-dos: Evaluate teachers on test scores. Jettison teacher tenure. Scrap last-in-first-out policies.

Yes, we need results-oriented teacher evaluation systems that draw on evidence of student learning. Yes, it makes sense to streamline personnel procedures for teachers and administrators. Sure, let’s abandon quality-blind placements.

But if what we want is genuine, sustained improvement of our public schools, we can’t just remove these arcane policies and pretend the job is done. To paraphrase H. L. Mencken, “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”

Here’s the real to-do list for those who want to improve our public schools:

  • Take part in nuanced, solutions-focused conversations with diverse stakeholders.
  • Examine empirical evidence of what works for students.
  • Tap into the wisdom of thousands of accomplished teachers in our nation’s classrooms.

These to-dos drive all of our work at the Center for Teaching Quality—including our New Millennium Initiative (NMI), which assembles diverse groups of talented, early-career educators who are committed to improving teaching and learning at the local and national level.

Currently at work in Denver, Washington state, Illinois, the Bay Area, and Hillsborough County (FL), our NMI teachers are digging into some of education’s toughest issues. These committed teachers are studying evidence of what works for students, asking tough questions of researchers and policymakers, and examining the policies that govern their profession. They’re identifying specific recommendations for improving teaching and learning. And they’re speaking out.

Each of our NMI sites will be releasing papers and multimedia products to spread their findings to others who care about teaching and learning.

This month, the Denver NMI teachers released a report pointing out how their state’s new teacher evaluation law can be effectively implemented.  Their report is concise, practical, and well-informed. It offers powerful evidence for why we should encourage teacher leaders to take an increasingly active role in today’s education policy debates.

On May 18, Denver NMI teachers presented their findings to a diverse audience including state board of education members, superintendents, union leaders, and other key stakeholders. (Thanks to the Colorado Legacy Foundation and Rose Community Foundation for co-sponsoring this gathering with CTQ.) The crowd was impressed by—indeed, hungry for—bold, practical perspectives from classroom teachers.

Since then, team members have been invited to take part in a variety of meaningful activities to advance effective implementation of the new law. Their work, funded by Rose Community Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is only just beginning.

Stay tuned—teachers in our other NMI sites are also tackling the tough to-dos and will be releasing additional reports in the months to come. Rather than being caught up in tired debates over arcane policies, they’re looking back at what has (and hasn’t) worked for students—and looking forward to what is possible.

Related categories: