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How to Get Better Teachers

— and Treat Them Right
Want better students? Find better teachers. Chester E. Finn, Jr. explains how we can lure America’s best and brightest back into the classroom. continued >

by Chester E. Finn, Jr. | iss. 2.04 | i | U |


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schools are not producing satisfactory results. while U.ChangeThis merican teachers do not get the respect.04 | i | U | X |+| h 2/18 f . and passionate about this calling. At the same time. they donʼt have enough. creating a large need for qualified people to replace them—and for even more to accommodate the countryʼs dual trends of enrollment growth and class-size shrinkage. and effective instructor. the compensation. A | iss. the freedom. U. Complicating matters further. as many as two million of todayʼs teachers will quit or retire over the next decade.S. How to get from here to a suitable set of solutions. My purpose here is to suggest a promising path that is very different from the one most policymakers and education reformers are presently following. however. 2. dedicated.S. expert at imparting knowledge and skills to children. or the rewards that many of them deserve. The key to well-educated children and strong schools is a top-notch teaching staff. is the subject of far less agreement. Unfortunately. schools have many fine teachers today. a problem that is not likely to be solved until our classrooms are filled with excellent teachers. Every child needs—and deserves—a knowledgeable. well grounded in academic content. About this nest of intertwined quality and quantity problems there seems to be a national consensus.

| iss. but typically they oblige the wouldbe public schoolteacher to attend a state-approved training program. an unknown number of individuals who did not originally plan to teach would now consider doing so if the terms of employment—and entry—were different. standard public schools are permitted to employ only people who have been “certified” as teachers by the state. U. Many of the required courses involve pedagogy.ChangeThis BACKGROUND In round numbers. With rare exceptions. Many other Americans—estimates run in the neighborhood of four million—were trained to become teachers but for various reasons are not working in classrooms today. child development. public and private schools employ three million teachers.” “study of self (teacher) as learner. public charter schools enjoy similar flexibility. Individuals who did not originally plan to teach would now consider doing so if the terms of employment–and entry–were different. Certification procedures and requirements vary. without regard to specialized training or state certification. 2. In some jurisdictions. for the most part. are free to hire anyone they like. In addition.” “classroom diversity. ordinarily in a college of education. however.S. the “foundations of education.” and so on. Private schools.04 | i | U | X |+| h 3/18 f . where the candidate must study a prescribed curriculum.

The second complaint is that this training-and-certification cycle is so burdensome—and full of “Mickey Mouse” courses and requirements—that it discourages able would-be teachers from making their way into the public schools. It is also common. itʼs usually necessary to return to college for a year or longer. 2. h 4/18 f . how- tion sequences and certification requirements is banal and pointless stuff beloved of educationists but not very valuable to actual school practitioners. protracted. and—most research indicates—that it can muster scant evidence of a relationship to classroom effectiveness.ChangeThis ever. mean that everyone holding such a certificate is well educated himself. at some point along the way. This marriage of state-approved teacher-training programs and state certification requirements for individual teachers has been the subject of criticism for many years. that the content of these prepara- Practice teaching is ordinarily required (and is the part that teachers generally find most valuable). that itʼs minimally linked to subject matter mastery. and then seeks to become a public schoolteacher. sometimes. SEE the rest of them. and irksome process.04 | i | U | X |+| Every one of our manifestos is free. to test teaching candidates for their knowledge of pedagogy and. There may be a test of basic skills. Two main objections are commonly voiced: first. knowledge of the subject in which they will be certified (which may or may not be the subject they end up teaching). much less that he will prove effective at imparting what he knows to the children in his classroom. That does not. States award teaching certificates to those who survive this cluttered. If an individual gets through college without having subjected herself to this regimen. | iss.

theyʼre paid exactly the same as ordinary (and weak) instructors. school reform efforts will surely falter unless essentially all teachers have the knowledge and skills neces- Longevity and paper credentials bring more money. No matter how well intentioned. but effectiveness does not. for teacher quality matters a great deal. Nor does it matter whether one is a high school chemistry teacher whose other job opportunities pay $100. Longevity and paper credentials bring more money. We know this from decades of research and the experience of millions of families. but effectiveness does not. either. the expert teachers themselves get no tangible rewards. Licensure is often followed by a hiring sequence in which the likeliest openings for a novice are in the worst schools. professional growth.000 or a middle | iss. U. The personnel practices of the teaching field are archaic and bureaucratic.S. 2. These are problems that the nation needs to solve. Training and certification arenʼt the whole story. Recent studies have found dramatic differences between the performance of youngsters who are assigned the best teachers and those entrusted to the worst classroom practitioners. there to be hurled into a classroom and left pretty much alone with a bunch of demanding kids and little opportunity for colleagueship.04 | i | U | X |+| h 5/18 f .ChangeThis sary to help essentially all their pupils meet high standards. or mentoring by expert teachers. On top of that.

S.” noted former U. teachers relies on state regulation of entry into the profession. This approach has led to a cadre of people half drowned in pedagogy but not necessarily drenched in content. THE ROMANCE OF REGULATION The dominant theory of quality control for U. “Their translators simply have no words to describe it. Indeed.04 | i | U | X |+| h 6/18 f . 2.ChangeThis school social studies teacher whose nonteaching options are far less lucrative. Their salaries remain identical.S. Amazingly. The same spurious equality holds for teachers in tough inner-city classroom situations and those in cushier environments. the inability of todayʼs licensure system to ensure that teachers can stay afloat in the subjects they teach is one of its gravest failings—and suggests an antiknowledge bias in the field that is scarcely compatible with attracting and retaining the best and brightest. “Foreign education ministers who visit me are just stumped when I try to explain this practice. In crafting solutions to the problems outlined above. Education secretary Richard Riley. the other deregulatory.” | iss. Exacerbating the problem of weak subject mastery is the lamentable fact that teachers often find themselves assigned to courses outside their own fields of expertise as cost-saving measures or administrative convenience or because of instructor shortages in advanced subjects such as math and science. nor does it employ rigorous exams to verify the adequacy of a teacherʼs knowledge of his field. policymakers have a fundamental choice between two basic approaches: one regulatory in nature. state certification does not always insist on deep college-level study of the subjects to be taught.

Insofar as there are links between teacher characteristics and classroom effectiveness. This suggests that recruiting smarter and better-educated people into teaching will do more to improve school results than requiring more or different preservice training. Burdensome certification requirements deflect eager individuals who might make fine teachers but are put off by the cost of completing a conventional preparation program. states are now tightening the regulatory vise. paradoxically. the strongest of these involve verbal ability (and. One college senior writes. not the teachers. in some fields. “What discourages us most are the | iss. Yet.ChangeThis Since most teachers merely follow the rules that their states set for certification. these shortcomings in the preparation of our teaching force must be laid at the feet of the regulators. Many are following the lead of California. which requires a five-year preparation sequence. Recruiting smarter and better-educated people into teaching will do more to improve school results. Researchers have struggled to identify the key traits that distinguish good teachers from bad. making it even harder to enter their public school classrooms by piling on new requirements for certification. State regulation values the wrong things. PASS THIS ALONG to as many people as you want! h 7/18 f .04 | i | U | X |+| Please donʼt be afraid. subject matter knowledge). Yet outstanding candidates are often deterred by the hurdles that the regulatory strategy erects. 2.

Where personnel decisions have been deregulated. Private schools. schools rush to hire well-educated persons whether or not they possess standard certification. which are free to hire anyone they like and which have a strong market-driven incentive to engage the best instructors they can.04 | i | U | X |+| h 8/18 f . | iss. Although some policymakers and parents view “certified” teachers as synonymous with qualified teachers. hire a large proportion of unlicensed teachers. and not a lack of interest. The most insidious hurdles involve lengthy training in pedagogy. that steers us away from teaching. there is much evidence that traditional training programs are not a prerequisite for good teaching. they will do something else. hence ought not to enjoy monopoly control over classroom entry.ChangeThis restrictive paths to the classroom and the poor reputation of schools of education—and as a result.. Yet thereʼs little evidence that this leads to effective teaching. they will do something else. If the costs of becoming a teacher are too high. being certified generally means little more than having endured stateapproved training at a school of education. 2. then. In fact.. if the costs of becoming a teacher are too high. It is the certification process. of teaching itself.” The best and brightest of todayʼs young Americans have bountiful career options. In New Jersey—the first state to implement alternative certification—roughly 20 percent of all teachers now enter the field via that route.

or the opinions of other teachers as indicators of quality. Despite the inability of the regulatory approach to ensure good teaching. Although good teachers do many other worthwhile things besides add to student learning—they help other teachers. a redoubling of regulatory zeal remains the fieldʼs preferred solution to the quality problem. But it isnʼt likely to work. standards met. We certainly cannot be sure that it will work. Regulation is contagious. work with parents. serve as moral role models. The more of it they produce. and so on—nothing they do is as important as academic achievement. therefore. the greater will be societyʼs admiration for them and the more open-handed will be the attitude of policymakers and taxpayers regarding their compensation. 2. | iss. Itʼs premature and imprudent. hence the need to experiment with other strategies. we should evaluate teachers based on the only measure that really matters: whether their pupils are learning. Teachers with very different teaching styles and approaches can be equally effective.04 | i | U | X |+| h 9/18 f . Thus a number of governors and legislators have clambered onto this bandwagon. A COMMON SENSE ALTERNATIVE Instead of using degrees earned. to clamp this approach onto all 50 states. The idea that more—and more homogeneous—training is the key has innate appeal for states seeking to do something.ChangeThis We would be better off to acknowledge that nobody can systematically measure the elusive qualities that good teachers have. Teaching is a complicated art and there are many ways to be good at it.

The rest is straightforward: states should allow individual public schools to employ teachers as they see fit and then hold those schools accountable for their results.ChangeThis Gauging the student learning that individual teachers produce is no pipe dream. states should scrap nearly all the hoops and hurdles that discourage good candidates from entering the classroom. Deregulating teaching in this way will not only expand the pool but also raise its quality. Since good teachers can be found in many places. In return for this autonomy. The role of the state should be to ensure that teachers do no harm. h 10/18 f . Judging teachers by the results they produce is the core of the commonsense strategy. and channeled into schools via many pathways. 2. (Monitoring those results is another state responsibility. schools should be held accountable for producing results. Dream up your own manifesto and SUBMIT your idea here. prepared in many ways.) | iss. Careful statistical analysis can identify with precision the gains that students make during a school year and then estimate the effects of individual teachers on their progress. Deregulating teaching in this way will not only expand the pool but also raise its quality.04 | i | U | X |+| Be bold. All other key personnel decisions should be devolved to the school itself.

and they must be able to remove those who do not produce satisfactory results. Common sense argues that outstanding teachers should be paid more than mediocre ones. Those that do a poor job will not. 2. For principals and school teams to shape their own membership in such a way as to shoulder accountability for school results.04 | i | U | X |+| h 11/18 f . Rather than buttressing an orthodoxy that does not work. Everyone who | iss. In a deregulated environment.ChangeThis Such an approach recognizes that there is no “one best system” for preparing and licensing good teachers. Education schools certainly ought not to control the only route. They will do so if they see proof that those methods are effective and those theories lead to student achievement. especially considering how many teachers report that the best place to learn their craft is on the job in the company of other good teachers. once they lose the protection that the regulatory cartel confers. good teacher education programs will thrive and prosper. This argues against mandating any single path into the profession. Principals and their school teams will decide whether to hire teachers who have been trained in certain pedagogical methods and theories. the commonsense approach embraces pluralism. they must not only be free to select from a wide range of candidates but must also have the flexibility to compensate staff members according to marketplace conditions (and individual performance).

if need be. In only 12 states can teacher pay vary at all based on performance or marketplace conditions. They should be authorized (and. trained) to appraise each teacherʼs singular package of strengths and weaknesses rather than having distant bureaucracies decide who will be on their team.04 | i | U | X |+| h 12/18 f . too. That means flexible pay. 2. | iss. Yet today the typical public school salary schedule (and teachersʼ union contract) allows for none of these commonsensical practices. and that outstanding teachers should be paid more than mediocre ones. Common sense argues that teachers of subjects in short supply should be paid more than those in overstocked fields. that teachers working in hard-to-staff schools should earn more than those in schools with hundreds of applicants. teachers should be evaluated based on the only measure that ultimately matters: whether their pupils are learning. Once hired. and almost everyone who has studied current teacher personnel systems has witnessed the danger of tying the school teamʼs hands when it comes to deciding who will join (or remain in) it. The only way to help effective teams to form is to allow them to choose their own members.ChangeThis has studied effective schools attests to the importance of a cohesive team that shares a common vision. They have access to far more significant information than state licensing boards and government agencies. School-level executives and veteran teachers are in the best position to know who teaches well and who teaches badly in their school.

Itʼs reminiscent of the heavy drinker who proposes to cure his hangover by imbibing more of the strong spirits that gave him the headache in the first place. True professions. 2. I predict that states that reduce barriers to entry will find not only that their applicant pool is larger but also that it includes many more talented candidates. On the basis of todayʼs evidence. As with the alcoholic. after all. But I suggest that others try something different. a “hair of the dog that bit you” approach to teacher quality reform can be counted on to make the problem worse. and uniform pay scales. h 13/18 f . donʼt hide behind government regulations. even though this approach shrinks the pool of candidates while having scant effect on their quality. | iss. It probably cannot work. and reward them accordingly. one would have to say that most states will continue in this mode. Let anyone teach who demonstrates the capacity to produce the desired results. tenure laws. The key is to shun excessive and ill-conceived regulations and focus instead on student outcomes. GET more. Forty years of experience suggest that this strategy has not worked.ChangeThis CONCLUSION For too long. Indeed.04 | i | U | X |+| Freedom is…not paying for this manifesto. States that want to persist with this approach will naturally do so. it has already com- pounded todayʼs dual crisis of quality and quantity and weakened the impulse to turn teaching into a true profession. policymakers have tackled the teacher quality problem by tightening regulations and expanding pedagogical requirements.

encourage individual schools to make their own decisions about schedule. in fact. 2. pluralism.ChangeThis This path to teacher quality is modeled on the approach that almost every successful modern enterprise has adopted to boost its performance and productivity: set high standards for the results to be achieved. identify clear indicators of progress toward those results. | iss. and be flexible and decentralized about the means for reaching them. In this spirit. It would be a mistake to put all our eggs in any one policy basket. The country. At the end of the day. experimentation. instructional style. and competition for its schools. It would be a mistake to put all our eggs in any one policy basket. Flexibility in return for results is the approach that many states are now employing for schools themselves—America is now experimenting with freedom. what I am urging is open-mindedness.04 | i | U | X |+| h 14/18 f . They certainly havenʼt in the past. Nobody today is certain how best to solve the teacher quality-andquantity problems. they encourage schools to be different. all joined to accountability for their results. many jurisdictions have scrapped the “one best system” view of education reform. and empiricism. should try both the approaches discussed above—and others yet to be devised. instead. There is little reason to believe that those methods will work better when addressing the teacher quality problem. Other organizations have recognized that regulating inputs and processes is counterproductive.

ChangeThis and curricular focus. This approach trusts principals to run schools worth attending and parents to be astute consumers in the education marketplace. and empower families to select the schools that best suit their children.04 | i | U | X |+| h 15/18 f .000 (and counting) charter schools are perhaps the most vivid example of our willingness to solve the school-quality problem via deregulation. | iss. all the while monitoring academic performance and making that information public. The countryʼs 2. A similar approach should be tried for teacher quality. Our children—and the nation— can only benefit from moves in this direction. 2. although it also uses statewide academic standards and tests to audit and report on actual achievement and to keep the consumers well informed. GO U z | iss.BetterTeachers/email SUBSCRIBE Learn about our latest manifestos as soon as they are available. edited by Terry M. a member of Hooverʼs A longer version of this essay appears as “Getting Better Teachers—and Treating Them Right” in the 2001. 3. From Hoover Digest. new Hoover Press book A Primer on Americaʼs Schools.04 | i | U | X LAST PAGE READ | MORE 16/18 f |+| h f .com/2. http://changethis. Jr.ChangeThis info ABOUT THIS AUTHOR Koret Task Force on K–12 Education. Sign up for our free newsletter and be notified by No. Chester E. Fordham Foundation. is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. http://changethis.BetterTeachers SEND THIS Click here to pass along a copy of this manifesto to others. president of the Thomas B. DOWNLOAD THIS This manifesto is available from http://changethis. and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Moe. 2.

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