November 2005 | Volume 4, Number 10
Can Policymakers Improve Teacher Quality?
Teacher quality will always be at the heart of education policy and reform. Policymakers who want to influence student achievement know that teachers are where the "rubber hits the road." Student learning takes place in the classroom, not in departments of education or on Capitol Hill.
It comes as no surprise that teachers have been the focus of several new developments this month, including changes to the teacher-quality timeline under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), new pay plans in Colorado and Texas, and a recent bill proposed in the U.S. Senate to bring new flexibility to NCLB.
Department of Education Stalls Teacher-Quality Requirements
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced a one-year delay in enforcing penalties on states that have not yet met the teacher-quality requirements of NCLB. To escape penalties this year, states have to show evidence of a "good faith effort" toward meeting the following criteria:
Establishing a state definition of a highly qualified teacher.
Implementing a system for reporting to parents and the public on classes taught by highly qualified teachers.
Ensuring the completeness and accuracy of data on highly qualified teachers reported to the U.S. Department of Education.
Taking steps to ensure that experienced and qualified teachers are equitably distributed among classrooms with poor and minority children and those with their peers.
States that satisfy these expectations will be able to negotiate a delay in meeting the full requirements until the 2006–07 school year.
Performance Pay Approved in Colorado and Texas
Denver, Colo., voters and the governor of Texas ushered in new performance-pay plans for teachers earlier this month. The Denver plan, known as the Professional Compensation System for Teachers, or ProComp, will use $25 million in additional property taxes to reward teachers for professional development, continuing education, raising student achievement, and teaching in high-poverty schools and academic areas where there are shortages of English language learner and middle school math teachers.
The plan received support from 58.5 percent of voters. Some teachers who oppose the program assert that it is a complex, unfair system that will encourage teaching to the test. Only new teachers who start teaching after January 1, 2006, will be required to join the program. Current teachers will have six years to voluntarily opt-in.
In Texas, Governor Rick Perry ordered a $10 million incentive-pay program to reward teachers who improve student performance in economically disadvantaged schools. The money, taken from discretionary federal funds, will be available as $100,000 grants to 100 schools. Governor Perry's executive order requires that 75 percent of the grant is directed to teachers, but it will be up to local school officials to determine the best way to distribute the grants.
Senate Bill Seeks Increased NCLB Flexibility
Senators Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced the NCLB Flexibility and Improvement Act to give states, school districts, and schools greater control in meeting the requirements of NCLB. The bill addresses several aspects of teacher quality, such as giving more flexibility for middle and high school teachers who teach multiple subjects. In addition to teacher quality, it also addresses accountability, funding, and provisions for assessing special education and limited-English-proficient students. More information on this bill is available in the ASCD Action Center.
Department of Education Letter on NCLB and Teacher Quality, Department of Education
Gov. Perry Institutes Teacher Merit Pay, Houston Chronicle
Pay-Reform Plan for Teachers Ok'd, The Denver Post
Snowe/Collins NCLB Flexibility and Improvement Act, ASCD Action Center