The Center for American Progress has previously argued that Congress should reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, this year to improve important components of the law and further education reform efforts in states and districts throughout the country. Until the reauthorization is complete, however, the Obama administration would be wise to use the appropriations process to advance its reform agenda. A key part of that agenda is strong initiatives to increase students’ access to great teachers and leaders.
President Barack Obama appears to get the message. His recently released 2012 budget request maintains a substantial investment in building a strong educator workforce. This investment is crucial to school reform efforts throughout the country since effective teachers and principals are the foundation of successful schools.
A growing body of evidence shows that teachers are essential to improving students’ learning but that teachers vary tremendously in their effectiveness.  In other words, which teachers are directing students’ learning matters a lot. And principals are critical in leading strong schools and recruiting, developing, and keeping good teachers in them.
The administration’s budget emphasizes competitive grant programs that support innovative strategies for improving teacher and leader effectiveness. It consolidates smaller programs so they yield a greater impact. These moves will make the best use of federal investment in teachers and leaders.
It accomplishes these goals primarily through a new Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, Teacher and Leader Pathways program, and new requirements for the formula grant program within Title II of ESEA, now renamed the Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants program.
It proposes $500 million for the Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund—an expansion of the existing Teacher Incentive Fund that is currently funded at $400 million. The Teacher Incentive Fund supports competitive grants to states and school districts to implement compensation reform programs in high-needs schools, including pay-for-performance, increased pay for teaching in subject shortage areas such as mathematics and science, and career ladders for teachers that offer them additional pay for increased responsibilities.
The most recent regulatory guidance for TIF also ensures the program leverages changes to policies besides teacher and principal compensation systems. For instance, it requires participating states and districts to develop comprehensive and aligned approaches to attracting, evaluating, and developing educators. This alignment—combined with other reform efforts—is key to ensuring that TIF promotes systemic changes in participating states, districts, and schools.
Similarly, the proposed Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund would support states and districts in implementing bold approaches to “identify, reward, retain, and advance effective teachers, principals and school leadership teams.”
The administration’s budget also provides $250 million in funding for a new Teacher and Leader Pathways program that was part of the Obama administration’s blueprint for reauthorizing ESEA. The program consolidates existing pathways programs to support competitive grants to states, school districts, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit organizations to develop or expand high-quality pathways into teaching. It would also support programs that recruit, prepare, and retain effective school leaders to turn around low-performing schools. This program is a critical part of a human capital strategy for attracting and preparing talented candidates to teach and lead in high-needs schools.
Other promising programs related to teacher preparation and included in the president’s budget include the Presidential Teaching Fellows program and Hawkins Centers of Excellence program. The Presidential Teaching Fellows program would provide formula grants to states to support scholarships for talented teaching candidates who attend high-performing teacher preparation programs and commit to teaching in a high-need school for three years.
It is unclear how high-needs schools will be defined. But the program includes important requirements for participating states to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for their outcomes. Specifically, participating states would have to agree to “measure the effectiveness of their teacher preparation programs, based in part on the academic growth of the students their graduates teach; hold these programs accountable for results; and upgrade licensure and certification standards.”
These requirements are similar to those outlined by Ed Crowe in a CAP paper. They are part of a new model Crowe suggested to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for their outcomes.
The Hawkins Centers of Excellence program would improve teacher preparation programs at minority-serving institutions and increase the number of effective teachers they produce. This program importantly connects efforts to increase the diversity of the teaching workforce with efforts to increase teacher effectiveness.
Finally, the Obama administration’s budget would attach key requirements to the existing Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, now called the Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants program. These requirements are critical to ensuring that formula funds leverage important reforms. CAP staff have written about how there was little evidence that these grants were leading to improvements in the quality of the educator workforce.
This formula program would become an important lever for reform with the administration’s proposed requirements. The administration’s budget would require states to develop definitions of “effective” and “highly effective” teachers and principals that would be the basis for the development of educator evaluation systems.
There has been a great deal of attention to the current inadequacy of teacher evaluation systems in particular. They are frequently superficial, don’t give teachers feedback about how to improve their performance, and don’t differentiate between teachers. Improving educator evaluation systems is a key strategy for improving the quality of educators. It is also necessary to improve the quality of human resource decisions—such as decisions about tenure and pay—that school districts must make about teachers and school leaders.
Under the administration’s budget both states and districts would also be required to develop meaningful plans to achieve a fair distribution of strong educators and would be held accountable for ensuring that low-income and minority students have equitable access to effective educators. This requirement is key to accomplishing an important goal of federal policy since research finds that giving poor and minority students consistent access to effective educators is the most promising strategy for closing the achievement gap.
Overall, the Obama administration’s budget takes an important step forward in making more strategic investments in building an outstanding educator workforce. Congress should support the administration’s proposals if it is serious about improving educational outcomes for all students.
Robin Chait is Associate Director for Teacher Quality at American Progress.
More from CAP on the budget:
. Tim Sass and others, “Value Added of Teachers in High-Poverty and Lower-Poverty Schools.” Working Paper 52 (Urban Institute, National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, 2010); Daniel Aaronson, Lisa Barrow, and William Sander, “Teachers and Student Achievement in the Chicago Public High Schools,” Journal of Labor Economics 25 (1) (2007): 95-135; Steven Rivkin, Eric Hanushek, and John Kain, “Teachers, Schools and Academic Achievement,” Econometrica 73 (2) (2005): 417-58; Jonah E. Rockoff, “The Impact of Individual Teachers on Student Achievement: Evidence from Panel Data,” American Economic Review 94 (2) (2004): 247-252; Robert Gordon, Thomas J. Kane, and Douglas O. Staiger, “Identifying Effective Teachers using Performance on the Job” (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 2006).
. Gordon, Kane, and Staiger, “Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job.”