With a new school year underway: Reinvesting in teachers is the best way to fix public education
As a young girl attending Los Angeles Unified public schools, I distinctly remember a favorite teacher telling our class at times that she had to miss a day of school to take her own classes to learn how to be a better teacher. Even as a small child, nothing could make more sense.
Unfortunately, that level of investment in our teachers has declined. Teachers are no longer getting the training and professional development they need. That is simply unacceptable.
As students prepare to return for another school year, there are some ways to help our teachers immediately. The House of Representatives just passed a bill providing $25 million to support teacher professional development, which comes through the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant program. I’m calling for the Senate to do the same, and for President Trump to sign the bill. But we can and must do more.
Some aspects of education policy can be partisan and contentious, but not this. Through both red and blue lenses, it is clear that our society is not living up to our end of the bargain we make with those who educate our children. And the consequences are damaging to generations of our children.
I have been in business for decades and have seen firsthand how technology has leveled the playing field between countries. Our kids have to be able to compete against those from around the world in the economy of today and the future, which increasingly requires advanced skills. Even more importantly, with the rise of anti-democratic movements around the world, students need a strong understanding of history, civics and the liberal arts to safeguard democracy.
We all understand school resources vary, and that’s not right. No student should get an inferior education because of his or her ZIP code. But one way to mitigate that disparity, and yes, decrease inequality is through human capital.
Developing the skills of just one teacher can pay real dividends for hundreds, if not thousands of students. The science backs that up.
A June 2017 study from the Learning Policy Institute evaluated a training program for California biology teachers in 2011. Those teachers participated in sessions designed to increase their understandings of both the concepts and specific content they were assigned to teach, immersing those teachers in learning activities they could then re-create in their classrooms.
Students of teachers in this program ended up with the equivalent of a year’s reading growth compared with those of teachers assigned to a control group whose students did not achieve a year’s reading growth. They also scored higher than their schoolmates in control classrooms on state assessments in biology, as well as English language arts.
Results like these are why it is necessary to make teacher training and development a major focus of any philanthropic work in K-12 public education.
At the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which my husband Richard and I co-founded alongside then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2007 and to which we have committed a total of $85 million, teacher training and development are at the forefront. The Partnership serves 18 of Los Angeles’ highest-need public schools, working WITHIN the Los Angeles Unified School District as a non-charter program. You cannot change the system unless you work inside the system, because you will not know which obstacles to overcome to repair the system.
By making teachers a priority, dedicating resources and providing frequent professional development training, the Partnership has been able to meaningfully improve performance, more than doubling graduation rates at its schools.
I have seen firsthand evidence of the multiplier effect. Put simply, it is when you spend a little more money up front, but get a lot more in return. There’s no greater example of this effect in education reform than investing in teacher training and professional development.
That’s why I am asking politicians and philanthropists to make teacher training programs and professional development a priority in their education efforts.
I am encouraged by some of the proposals put forth by presidential candidates, such as investing in funds for teachers to be paid for mentoring, and expanding “master teacher” programs. But we can do so much more.
In a perfect world, schools would have enough resources to not have to make choices. In reality, both districts and private donors often have to choose between fixing a leaky roof, buying new notebooks, or paying for professional development for teachers.
We are not going to equalize education overnight. But our children cannot afford to wait while we do nothing. That is why it is time to focus on one particularly effective way we can make a difference and give our teachers what they deserve.
And when it comes down to stepping up for our teachers, more of us need to raise our hands.
Melanie Lundquist is an activist philanthropist and co-founder of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. She and her husband Richard own a real estate development company based in the Los Angeles area. Melanie and Richard are signatories to the Giving Pledge, promising to give away more than half their wealth.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.