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If our nation is going to remain a global economic leader, we must ensure all students—regardless of their family background—have the strong teachers they need and deserve. Effective teachers are critical to raising achievement and closing longstanding gaps between student subgroups. The upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, offers an important opportunity to improve teacher and principal effectiveness.
To make greater use of ESEA as a lever for reform, Congress should hold the line on formula funding—budget speak for noncompetitive monetary awards based on a predetermined formula—while increasing competitive funding for programs that support promising reforms. We also believe federal funding should be used more strategically and ensure all students have access to strong teachers. This report will examine some of the issues with the current law and offer our recommendations for change. Specifically we recommend that Congress:
- Authorize a Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund that supports innovative strategies to recruit, retain, and reward effective teachers and principals
- Create a Teacher and Leader Pathways program that focuses on preparing effective educators for high-needs schools
- Require states to develop next-generation teacher and principal evaluation systems and ensure the equitable distribution of strong teachers
- Improve effectiveness by boosting capacity and consolidating programs
In the pages that follow, we will detail the reasons why these four reforms are essential to future economic competitiveness of our nation and the individual prosperity and well-being of our new generations of Americans. But briefly, here is a quick summary of our four recommendations.
Authorize a Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund
A new Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, or TLIF, would award grants to states and school districts to support innovative strategies that attract and support effective teachers and principals in high-need schools. States or districts could use the funds to develop more aggressive recruitment strategies, strengthen tenure processes, and institute career ladders for teachers, among other reforms.
The TLIF is similar to a proposal from the Center for American Progress for “teacher effectiveness grants,” which would award competitive funds to states and districts that support reforms to teacher compensation, tenure, and evaluation.1 Under TLIF, states or districts should be required to demonstrate that the activities are increasing educator effectiveness. Given the program’s importance, TLIF should be made the new Part A of Title II of ESEA. State Teacher Quality Grants would become Part B.
Create a Teacher and Leader Pathways program
A Teacher and Leader Pathways program would consolidate a number of existing recruitment and preparation programs into a larger program focused on preparing educators for high-needs schools. The program would focus on teacher and principal preparation and provide competitive grants to districts as well as nonprofit and university partners.
Programs would be designed to meet the specific needs of districts. And the programs must either have a record of preparing effective educators or commit to tracking and measuring the effectiveness of graduates in the classroom.
Develop teacher and principal evaluations and ensure the equitable distribution of strong teachers
Congress should require that states create new evaluation frameworks for both teachers and principals. For teachers, the evaluation system should be in use no later than five years after ESEA reauthorization. Together with The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, we at the Center for American Progress developed a specific set of actions for states to implement robust evaluation systems that incorporate measures of teacher impact on student growth.
The new teacher evaluation systems must include measures of teacher impact on student growth as a substantial factor in the evaluation.
Another significant part of the teacher evaluation process should be rigorous observations of their practices in classrooms. Evaluations should differentiate teachers into at least four groups of performance, with states determining the names of the categories and their precise cutoff points.
Once a state has a new teacher evaluation system in place, it should use the results to inform critical human resources decisions, including tenure, compensation, and professional development, as well as to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the performance of their graduates. The data should also be used to identify inequities within districts based on factors of race and poverty. And if a district has not significantly narrowed gaps in teacher quality between schools over time, they should lose part, or eventually all, of their ESEA Title II funds.
Until stronger evaluation systems are online, Congress should require states to create a Teacher Quality Index that would identify inequity and guide action to fix it, and we propose a series of steps detailed in the main pages of this report that will help states identify inequities and take the actions necessary to correct them.
Similarly, principal evaluation systems need to be introduced and should be in use no later than four years after ESEA reauthorization. Districts could create their own evaluation systems as long as they followed guidelines set by the state. State guidelines should include a measure of schoolwide academic growth as well as research-based rubrics that assess whether principals are taking the actions they need to improve student learning and teacher practice.
Improve effectiveness by boosting capacity and consolidating programs
Federal education funding should advance equity and excellence in education. To make the greatest use of ESEA dollars, Congress should continue to support formula-based programs while boosting competitive funding for programs that encourage reform. In order to boost capacity, states should retain an additional 2.5 percent of Teacher Quality funds so they can develop and implement improved evaluation systems.
At the same time, there are a number of programs within Title II of ESEA that are too small to have much of an impact. They should be consolidated to better leverage the funds. Like the Obama administration, we propose eliminating or consolidating a number of these programs to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our federal education spending while ensuring those funds are spent fairly to improve the educations of all of our children.
The time to act is now
Improving the quality of teachers and leaders is historically a critical aspect of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001. The law boasts a number of vehicles for improving teacher quality. Title II of ESEA provides funding to improve teaching and school leadership, and the highly qualified teacher provisions in Title I ensure minimum qualifications for teachers. But after nine years of implementation, it is clear that while the various provisions have led to some progress, they have not had the impact the authors of the law had hoped for.
Almost all teachers now meet the highly qualified definition but elementary and middle schoolers across the nation are still not proficient in math and reading, and large achievement gaps between low-income and higher-income students remain in every state. States have spent significant Title II dollars on professional development and class-size reduction with little to show for it.2 This can—and must— change. This paper’s four recommendations are the way to do so.
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Ulrich Boser is a Senior Fellow at American Progress and Robin Chait is the effectiveness manager for the Race to the Top Team at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, D.C. She is the former Associate Director for Teacher Quality at American Progress, where she focused her work on teacher and principal quality and effectiveness, particularly as they affect disadvantaged students.