Raising Teacher Quality

Good teachers are central to guaranteeing high-quality education for students and maintaining American competitiveness.

Education research convincingly shows that teacher quality is the most important schooling factor influencing student achievement. A very good teacher as opposed to a very bad one can make as much as a full year’s difference in learning growth for students.

Yet there is a shortage of high quality teachers in public schools. Not a single state met the NCLB requirement of ensuring high quality teachers in every core subject by the end of the 2005-2006 school year.

This problem is spurred by teacher salaries that continue to fall behind inflation and fail to measure up against professions with comparable skills, and a high teacher turnover rate. One in three teachers leaves the profession within the first three years, and 50 percent leave within five years.

The Center for American Progress recently released two reports examining effective efforts to improve teacher quality—one looking at international teacher compensation efforts, the other weighing the political implications of recent research on teacher pay.

The reports urge a four-tiered solution for improving teacher quality:

  • Upgrading teacher preparation programs and on-the-job training opportunities and holding these programs accountable for producing effective teachers and school leaders.
  • Redesigning compensation and career advancement systems to reward effective teachers and school leaders through fair performance measures.
  • Guaranteeing the equitable distribution of high-quality teachers through strategies such as providing incentive pay, mentoring new teachers, and improving working conditions.
  • Providing significant financial incentives to teachers to work in the most challenging schools or in subject areas with shortages such as math, science, special education, bilingual education, and critical-needed foreign languages.

Some of these proposals are contained in legislation that will soon come before Congress. The Teacher Excellence for All Act (S.1218), introduced by Rep. Miller (D-CA) and Sen. Kennedy (D-MA), would develop grant programs to improve recruitment, preparation, distribution, and retention of public elementary and secondary school teachers and principals. The Innovation Districts for School Improvement Act (S.2441), introduced by Sen. Obama (D-IL), would award competitive grants to urban, rural, and suburban local education agencies to create innovation districts that implement systemic reforms in the areas of teaching, assessment, school leadership, and administration.

The United States, along with most other advanced industrial countries, is finding it increasingly difficult to get and keep good teachers. Teacher quality is a central ingredient of effective education; we must implement effective strategies for attracting better teachers to public schools in order to guarantee that all students receive a high-quality education and maintain America’s competitiveness on the world stage.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund released a memo in November urging the 110th Congress to take steps to pass the TEACH Act and Innovation Districts for School Improvement Act to begin raising the quality of teachers in classrooms. View the full agenda here:

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