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You Can’t Improve Teacher Quality Without Treating Teachers With Respect and Putting a Priority on Teacher Retention

The latest obsession of the Education Reformers is improving the quality of the nation’s teaching force. This is the subject of the Gates Foundation’s newest initiative and it even shapes the publicity campaign accompanying the much ballyhooed new Hollywood film “We Won’t Back Down,” whose main subject is how teachers unions obstruct needed changes to urban schools.

However, the nation’s most important education reform organization “Teach for America,” whose ex Corps members provide the bulk of the staff members for groups like “Children First” and “Stand for Children," as well as many charter school organizations and state education departments, have had little positive impact on teacher quality since it started 20 years ago.

Although TFA has recruited most of its corps members from the top academic tier of the nation’s top colleges, it gives little priority to teacher training, teacher mentoring, or teacher retention. As a result, less than 20 percent of Teach for America corps members remain as classroom teachers five years after their commitment is up.

TFA’s publicity actually encourages its recruits to become education leaders and advocates rather than teachers. As a result, its Corps members get the message that teaching is actually the LEAST desirable option of those available to them after participating in this high-profile, high-prestige program.

As for other strategies to improve teacher quality -- from merit pay, to rating teachers based on student test scores and firing those who fail to make the grade -- none of them have succeeded in making the teaching profession more attractive, as a long-term option, to talented people.

Indeed, such measure, promoted at the Federal as well as local level, have undermined teacher morale to the lowest it has been on record, especially since it has been accompanied by a campaign of public demonization of teachers unprecedented in American history.

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How you can improve the quality of a profession by subjecting its members to public ridicule and abuse, in everything from campaign speeches, to editorials, to Hollywood films, is a mystery that I am too dense to unravel, but Education Reformers seem to see this campaign as essential to gaining the policy changes they desire.

But the damage has already been done. More and more, the brightest young people I know are seeking to leave the teaching profession because they can’t stand to see their jobs reduced to test prep in climate of constant surveillance and public abuse.

The same is true of the best veteran teachers. It takes real courage for a teacher to keep their optimism and maintain their professional standards in this poisonous climate, and even that may not be possible unless they have a courageous administrator to defend them.

So unless the reformers switch gears and bring the most talented teachers and principals into the conversation, their teacher quality initiative will fail miserably.

You cannot recruit and retain great teachers through coercion and intimidation. What those methods will produce is a revolving door teaching force of people who last a few years then leave, supplemented by on line teaching strategies which eliminate teachers entirely.

mark naison

That is where current policies are heading. And the result will be young people who lack the human touch and mentoring that helps make students better citizens and better people, as well as better learners. If you think our society is fractured now, wait till you see where THAT outcome takes us!

Mark Naison
With a Brooklyn Accent

Posted: Tuesday, 7 August 2012