5 Questions with TeachStrong

Filed under Education

TeachStrong, a campaign run by the Center for American Progress, is focused on making modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the top policy issue of our time. In their report Smart, Skilled and Striving, TeachStrong outlines a vision for to how to modernize the profession so that every student is taught by great teachers.

Jamie Fasteau, Director of Education at Emerson Collective, sat down with Catherine Brown, Vice President of Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, to discuss the report and the TeachStrong campaign.

How will the TeachStrong campaign be different than the current debates and how are you ensuring a focus on what’s best for students?

Over the last two decades, policymakers have laid the foundation for a better education system by enacting higher standards and putting in place stronger accountability systems. Through these reforms, we have raised the bar for students, teachers, and schools. But the systems for recruiting, preparing, supporting, and compensating teachers have not risen commensurately. As a result, expectations and demands on teachers are without precedent, yet teachers do not have the tools to succeed.

TeachStrong is aimed at tackling the next important and logical step for improving student achievement: systemic reform to the teacher career continuum. That means raising bar to entry, bringing pay in line with other professions, and giving teachers the necessary time to prepare and improve their practice.

What isn’t modern about the profession, what needs to change and how is that better for schools, teachers, and students?

We expect a tremendous amount of teachers: to differentiate instruction, to impart social and emotional skills, to employ rapidly advancing technology, and to support a more diverse student population than at any time in history. Meanwhile, the teaching profession in most communities hasn’t kept pace with this evolution of our expectations for teachers. It offers limited opportunities for growth, development, and advancement; pay that is low relative to similarly-educated professionals; almost no time to plan, prepare or collaborate with colleagues; and weak preparation.

This Los Angeles Times article—“Better pay, more time to plan and one other thing teachers want from you”—details the changes called for in Smart, Skilled, and Striving.

Why are policy changes needed? Wouldn’t it be enough to improve teaching in every classroom?

We have to start by ensuring that teachers are well-prepared to lead classrooms of their own. Teacher preparation programs must recruit and select teacher candidates carefully and purposefully and raise their admissions standards. Teacher training programs must also ensure that teachers have the opportunity to practice their craft—through high-quality clinical experiences—before becoming teachers of record. Licensure exams must be a meaningful bar for entry into the teaching profession, and should be rooted in deep content knowledge and pedagogical skill.

Teachers should be rewarded for effective practice and for taking on additional leadership roles. We also have to make a much more aggressive and purposeful effort to support new teachers through graduated responsibility models, mentoring, and much stronger clinical experiences pre-service. School schedules should be redesigned to allow teachers significantly more time to reflect, prepare, plan and collaborate with their colleagues. Teachers should have opportunities to grow as professionals over time through additional recognition of their expertise and leadership. Concurrently, the bar for achieving tenure should be a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment.

Finally, school leaders should frequent, meaningful, and timely feedback on their performance. Policy changes—now more than ever—are needed to make sure teachers make the choice to stay in the classroom.

How can pre-service training be improved to meet school and student needs and help new teachers on day one in their classroom?

Several states, including Delaware, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provide proof points for better pre-service systems. Both have raised admissions requirements to teacher education programs and changed licensure requirements to make entry into the teaching profession more selective.

We argue in our report that even more aggressive steps should be taken. Teacher preparation programs should require a pre-test for entry so that prospective teachers don’t waste their time preparing to become a teacher if they do not have the content knowledge or skills to be successful in the classroom.

We also argue that all teachers should have significant clinical experience, such as a year of working in school under a graduated release model, prior to becoming the teacher of record.

Smart, Skilled, and Striving discusses the ways in which teacher preparation programs can better serve teacher candidates, schools, and school districts.

What do your report and the TeachStrong campaign highlight and propose to address these challenges?

Both propose to redesign schools into more attractive and professionalized workplaces where teachers will want to devote their careers. These policies entail giving teachers significantly more time to collaborate and prepare, providing them with leadership and advancement opportunities, providing more rigorous preparation so that they are better prepared when they start, and aligning their pay with other professional occupations. These long-term strategies will mitigate teacher shortages and turnover in the future.