Teacher accountability and quality: not as simple as conventional reform suggests.

Mailing Date: 
July 31, 2013

Education Evolving Launches "Teachers in Partnership" Initiative

  • If teachers are to be accountable for student learning teachers should control what matters for student learning. It's a serious mistake to be trying to push accountability down to the classroom while pulling authority up to the district office, up to the state level and up to the national government.
  • A good many people want to teach but many, once in teaching, don't want to stay. Turnover is a big problem. If this country is going to improve retention teaching will have to offer them a really good job and a really good career.
  • The question of 'teacher quality' isn't as simple as conventional 'reform' suggests. It's not a matter just of individual skills and attitudes. 'Teacher quality' depends partly on how the school is organized and run.

On July 25, in Washington, Education Evolving put these propositions to about a dozen of the individuals and organizations most closely involved with teachers and teaching.

Present in the group we convened were: Jo Anderson, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Education; Katherine Bassett, Executive Director, National Network of State Teachers of the Year; Barnett Berry, CEO, Center on Teaching Quality; Kathy Buzad, American Federation of Teachers; Tom Carroll, President, National Commission on Teaching and America's Future; Candace Crawford, Executive Director, Teach Plus DC; Richard Ingersoll, School of Education, University of Pennsylvania; Charles Kerchner, Claremont Graduate University; Dal Lawrence, Toledo Federation of Teachers; Fran Lawrence, Executive Vice President, American Federation of Teachers; John Merrow, Learning Matters / PBS NewsHour; Lori Nazareno, Center on Teaching Quality and co-founder of a partnership school in Denver CO; Ron Thorpe, President and CEO, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards; Tom Toch and Taylor White, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Adam Urbanski, Teachers Union Reform Network and President, Rochester (NY) Teachers Association; John Wright, Office of the Chief Learning Officer, National Education Association.

E|E has for a number of years been helping advance the idea that teachers, like white-dollar professionals in other fields, might organize partnerships to run a school, a department of a high school or a learning program district-wide.

Schools organized on this model began appearing in Minnesota's chartered sector about 1993 and have since begun to appear in other states and in the district sector of public education.

The story is told in Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots, by Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager, published in 2012.

The partnership idea turns out to link closely with the efforts by a number of these organizations concerned that conventional 'reform,' with its scripting of teachers' work, is driving out some of the best teachers from America's schools.

  • Both the major unions, the AFT and the NEA, are interested in building teaching as a profession.
  • Tom Carroll at NCTAF stresses the importance of teacher collaboration to successful school 'turnarounds'.
  • Richard Ingersoll reported from his research (published in Who Controls Teachers' Work) that schools work better where teacher roles are larger.
  • In negotiations currently in Rochester NY the union and the new superintendent are currently negotiating a way to build the partnership idea into the new district contract.

This partnership idea, the idea of moving away from the boss/worker model that has been a given in traditional school, is a part of the strategy of innovation being urged by Education Evolving. The thought is not that this is 'the right way'; simply that to succeed with its effort to improve schools and learning American education policy cannot limit itself to marginal changes in traditional school.

Those from E|E stressed, too, that the idea is essentially to increase the autonomy of the school and to enlarge teachers' role in the school. This might involve organizing the school formally as a partnership or workers' cooperative, but equally might involve simply a shift in roles within a school organized in the traditional single-leader model.

Our DC meeting marks the beginning of an increased focus on this idea of “Teachers in Partnership” over the coming year. We’ll keep you informed. Meanwhile, more about the partnership idea can be found on the E|E "teachers" subsite.

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