Are you for alternative certification?
Alternative certification and alternative routes to teaching have their place. We believe those options should demand excellence and deliver teachers who are effective over time.
Are you just calling for “merit pay”?
No. By “merit pay,” people usually mean paying teachers more if their students get high scores on standardized tests at the end of the year. We believe teacher performance in the classroom should be measured, and superior results should be rewarded. But there are fairer and more accurate ways to do that now. For example, in the more than 130 schools across the country using the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), teachers can earn more based on how much their students learn in the classroom over the course of the school year, how much the school improves overall, and how well they perform on observations of teaching skills that take place 4-6 times per year.
Are you trying to get rid of teacher tenure?
No. We recognize that there is a vigorous debate about teacher tenure, with strong feelings on both sides. But that debate does not touch on the issues we want presidential candidates and the American people to discuss.
Do you want to raise teacher salaries?
Over time we need to raise the compensation for teachers to attract the best talent to the profession. But we believe that should be done as part of a comprehensive rethinking of how we compensate teachers—including their performance and their willingness to take on tougher assignments. Recent college graduates believe teachers are underpaid, but they also believe that teaching does not offer enough opportunities for advancement based on hard work and results. We should try to solve both of those problems at the same time.
Is it fair to judge teachers by student test scores? Don’t kids come in at different levels?
Over the last decade there has been great progress developing fairer and more accurate ways to measure a teacher’s impact on student learning. Those methods are usually called “value-added” because they take into account a student’s skills upon entering a teacher’s classroom and then look at how much the student gained by the end of the year.
We recognize that many teachers have concerns about performance incentives based on student learning. But when teachers are asked about incentives based on learning gains rather than simple year-end test scores, their support goes up. In a 2003 poll by Public Agenda, 50 percent of new teachers rated such a proposal as “excellent” or “good,” compared with only 15 percent who rated it as “poor.”
At the same time, value-added approaches are not a replacement for assessments that measure student proficiency with American standards. They are one component in a system of evaluation tools.
Your issues are only part of the picture. Aren’t there a lot of other things you need to do to improve teaching?
Yes. Around the country, states and local districts are working on a range of issues related to teaching: Improving teacher preparation, providing better ongoing training, modernizing licensure and certification. We applaud all of those efforts.
But we also believe that leaders need to find ways to value teachers by rewarding those who produce superior results or take on challenging assignments. Few other professions would pay less to a high-performing employee than a low-performing employee simply because the high-performer has less experience. And few professions would routinely give the toughest jobs to their weakest members, as education often does.