WASHINGTON, D.C. | July 27, 2011 -
Good morning, and welcome to our committee hearing on teacher quality initiatives. I’d like to thank our witnesses for joining us today. Your time is valuable and we appreciate the opportunity to get your perspective on how states, school districts, and the federal government can support and encourage more effective teachers.
Current law recognizes a teacher as “highly qualified” if he or she holds a bachelor’s degree, is certified or licensed to teach in the state, and has subject matter and teaching knowledge as determined by a state test. While these are certainly important criteria for our educators, none of these factors alone can determine whether someone will be an effective teacher capable of motivating students and improving achievement levels.
The best teachers are those who keep students engaged, challenged, and progressing in the classroom. As members of this committee have discussed the challenges facing the nation’s education system with superintendents, principals, and community leaders this year, we have heard impressive stories of the bright men and women who are entering the field of teaching and bringing a new wave of creativity and innovation to K-12 classrooms.
A few months ago, a superintendent in my home state of Minnesota shared the story of a promising young teacher in his school. This teacher made great strides in improving the reading skills of male students by pioneering a groundbreaking program called Boys Like to Read. His popularity with students combined with the success of the program earned him recognition as the “Teacher of the Year.” This and other examples from around the country illustrate what research has long professed: the most important factor in student success is an effective teacher in the classroom.
Unfortunately, instead of receiving a bonus or promotion or opportunity to help other teachers replicate his successful teaching style in their own classrooms, this Teacher of the Year was let go from his school – where he was recognized for his accomplishments and appreciated by students, parents, and administrators alike – all because of misguided “last in first out” tenure rules.
Valuing credentials and tenure over student outcomes is completely unacceptable. Every student deserves to be inspired and challenged by an outstanding educator, not one who has lost interest in helping students succeed, but is protected by rigid teacher tenure rules. As we work to reform the nation’s education system, the committee will support state and local efforts to recruit and maintain more effective teachers in the nation’s classrooms.
In Tennessee, for example, state legislators have developed a new law that revamps the evaluation system. As a result, teachers must undergo a thorough annual evaluation process based on student achievement levels and subjective measures, such as classroom observations. Earlier this year, the state went one step further by tying the results of these evaluations to meaningful consequences: teachers whose evaluations reflect subpar performance in the classroom can have their tenure revoked. We will hear more about this new system from one of our witnesses today.
School districts in Indiana are now required to take student achievement gains into account when developing new teacher evaluations. To attract more effective teachers to the classroom, the state is developing more rigorous professional development programs, and has created a Beginning Teacher Residency program that authorizes school administrators to assess a new teacher’s performance and provide a personalized plan for professional development.
Indiana has also undertaken an initiative long supported by Republicans in Congress: taking an educator’s performance in the classroom into account when making salary determinations. For years, we have championed programs that support performance pay measures. One such program, the Teacher Incentive Fund, awards competitive grants to states, school districts, and public charter schools to design and implement performance pay compensation systems for teachers and principals who improve student achievement.
We all know there can be no one-size-fits-all federal solution for ensuring an effective teacher is in every classroom. However, we can make sure our efforts in Washington, D.C. do not undermine teachers’ and principals’ ability to make decisions that best suit their students’ unique needs. At the same time, there are many interesting developments happening at the state and local level that should be encouraged, and that’s what we’re here to explore today. I’d like to thank our witnesses once again for joining us, and I look forward to learning more about what states and school districts are doing to recruit and maintain effective teachers in classrooms across the country.
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