WASHINGTON, D.C. | September 30, 2009
We’re here today to explore how to ensure all children are taught by effective teachers.
Study after study has shown that effective, knowledgeable teachers are among the most important factors when it comes to improving student academic achievement. High-quality teachers are more important than state-of-the-art facilities or factors such as the student-to-teacher ratio.
Unfortunately, the question of what makes an effective teacher is not easily quantifiable. There is no formula for the years of classroom experience or the number of degrees hanging on the wall that can guarantee a teacher’s effectiveness.
Some of the most dynamic, engaging teachers are new to the profession, bringing with them the enthusiasm of a Teach for America participant or the unique perspective of an engineer or scientist offering his or her real world experience to eager young minds.
Chairman Miller convened this hearing not just to talk about what makes an effective teacher, but to explore whether it’s possible to put the very best teachers where they are needed most – in the classrooms of our students with the greatest needs.
To answer that question, I believe we must look first at the barriers that exist today. For instance, are collective bargaining agreements making it difficult for school districts to transfer teachers among schools? Are state and local laws and policies inhibiting school leaders from placing the best teachers where they are needed most? I look forward to hearing the answers to these questions from our witnesses.
One of the most promising strategies to promote excellence in the classroom is the concept of performance pay. Congressman Price will be testifying this morning on his legislation to foster these innovative pay systems that reward teachers for their success and the achievement of their students.
Of course, if we want to ensure high-quality teachers are in our neediest classrooms, we should work to improve the quality of all teachers. That means strengthening teacher colleges and professional development opportunities for current teachers. It means embracing alternative certification and training programs that can bring professionals from other fields into our classrooms. It means exploring innovative programs already being implemented at the local level such as the Teacher Advancement Program, which we will discuss today. And it means discarding rigid rules and practices that put adults ahead of students.
The No Child Left Behind Act recognized the value of high-quality teachers by calling for all students to be taught by a – quote – “highly qualified teacher.” It was the right concept, but in the years since the enactment of NCLB, we’ve seen confusion and uncertainty as states try to fit their individual teachers into a federal definition of what makes a teacher highly qualified.
For instance, teachers in rural communities are often responsible for teaching multiple subjects. Early interpretations of the federal requirements would have required these individuals to have multiple bachelor’s degrees in each of the subject areas they taught.
The lesson to be learned is that the federal government ought to proceed with caution as we attempt to improve the quality of our teaching workforce. We are right to shine a spotlight on this issue, and I’m glad to be having this hearing today. But we should be wary of a federal solution that attempts to dictate where teachers should teach, limit prospective teachers to a single path toward certification, or define what makes a good teacher.
As with most of the challenges in our education system, federal intervention carries with it the possibility of significant unintended consequences that could undermine the very policies we’re trying to promote.
With that, I want to thank our distinguished panel of witnesses – including the Members who’ve taken time from their busy schedules to be here this morning.
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