A new paradigm to support teachers

Regardless of how you word it, most states have now undergone the process of adopting new education standards that more accurately reflect what students need to know and be able to do in the 21st century economy. While the politics of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have sucked most of the air out of the room, school and district practitioners know that politics aside, CCSS has created the opportunity to focus on the most important question: what do students need to know and be able to do?

As a former teacher, central office leader and superintendent, I believe that everything in a school system needs to be organized around teaching and learning, and equity. Both require highly trained professional educators and a cohesive system that creates the right conditions for success. The TeachStrong campaign highlights the key principles of ensuring that teachers today are prepared to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students.

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The TeachStrong principles reflect some key ideas about how to elevate the profession, such as paying teachers more. In PDK International’s 2015 poll of the U.S. public’s attitudes towards public education, 58 percent of respondents overall and 66 percent of parents believe that teacher salaries are too low. Teachers make 60 percent of the salaries of other college-educated professionals.

Another critical piece of the TeachStrong campaign is improving teacher preparation; again, something that the American public supports. In fact, nearly three-quarters of respondents to the PDK International poll want to see prospective teachers pass an entry exam similar to that of doctors and lawyers.

Yet, better preparing teachers will not be enough alone to improve opportunities and outcomes for children. We need to have a commensurate focus on the various elements of school systems that support great teaching and learning. I believe that school district leaders need to design such systems in collaboration with teachers as well as school and system leaders. Such a system has a through-line from the classroom to the boardroom.

First, we should start by developing more programs like Educators Rising, which identifies and cultivates skilled educators beginning in high school. Once new teachers reach the classroom, they deserve a supportive environment including ongoing support and mentoring from veteran teachers and administrators. Teachers should also receive opportunities for career advancement that allow them to remain in the classroom while exercising their leadership skills on a school-wide level. Principals should be held to the same standards as teachers; evaluation systems should hold principals and teachers alike accountable for creating and sustaining the conditions for success within a classroom and school.

The elements outlined above are a starting point for system re-design that will promote increased professionalism and expertise in our teachers and will therefore lead to improved outcomes for students. As we have come to recognize that our students must achieve higher standards in order to succeed in the 21st century global economy, so too must we move away from the image of the heroic individual who saves a group of kids through his/her own ingenuity and hard work. Our new paradigm must be that of an aligned and cohesive system that promotes the highest quality instruction in every classroom, every day for every child.

Starr is the chief executive officer for Phi Delta Kappa International, and the former superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools and Stamford Public Schools.