Education Reform Part 4
By Governor Eddie Baza Calvo
Delivered by Lt. Governor Ray Tenorio
Last week the Governor said the full implementation of a new curriculum — the Common Core — is needed before anything else can happen. Not only that, this full implementation needs to include a holistic testing program that will go with the Common Core, and the new learning and teaching resources, too.
He’s right. We can’t expect anything of teachers and students unless there’s a strong curriculum that everyone understands… and a testing system that’s aligned with it… and all the books or computers, white boards, internet access, and all the other things the classrooms need. Otherwise, how could we even begin to reform classrooms? It would be completely unfair to teachers if we started holding them accountable for teaching an unclear curriculum… or for ensuring students are learning something that can’t be accurately measured.
So then what next? We can build this world-class curriculum and give all the necessary resources… but what happens after that? There was an editorial that said the Common Core needs to be matched with a system of accountability that is based on learning outcomes. The writer is absolutely right.
Study after study is showing that the person with the single-greatest impact on whether a child learns is not the parent or guardian. It’s not the counselor or the babysitter, the mayor, the governor, the legislature, or the contractor fixing the classroom. It’s the classroom teacher. And the principal follows at a very close second. Learning, as we’ve said from the start of this series, is the focus. And a good teacher is most able to ensure that learning happens. You can see this in every school. Just ask students – high achievers and at-risk students alike, along with their parents – they’ll bluntly tell you they love these teachers because of how fun they make learning. Our goal is to ensure every teacher aspires and becomes like this. Students deserve nothing less.
Now, there are a lot of good teachers. A lot of teachers spend a lot of time in their classrooms passionately delivering lessons to their students. And they spend even more time after class and at home grading papers, calling parents, coaching teams, and exhausting themselves out of pure love for their students. To be fair, there are also passionate teachers who just need some training, or maybe a mentor to help them. And to be honest, we all know there are some bad teachers who slipped into the system and should not be with students.
I want to be clear that the teaching reforms I will be explaining should only happen if a structured curriculum is in place, an assessment program is aligned with the curriculum, and if teachers have the proper tools to teach the curriculum. It begins with an updated teacher preparation program that prepares teachers to teach all students in the 21st century. This reformulation should update the school leadership program as well – so school leaders can effectively guide all teachers.
Then, DOE needs to continuously provide teachers the professional development they need to understand students and the curriculum… to administer the assessment program, and use the teaching and learning resources. For teachers in training at the UOG School of Education, DOE needs to reach out and ensure the teaching program is aligned with what DOE classrooms need. This is usually in classroom management, curricular design, and a variety of effective instructional strategies. We recommend a post-graduate first-year induction program for new teachers to bridge the theory into application. And for teachers who need help managing their classrooms, we need to expand the mentorship program so mentors can assist struggling teachers to be the best they can be. As with any profession, we can’t expect teachers to excel at their craft if we don’t provide them the tools and opportunities to excel.
Second, school communities need to find time in the week for teachers to collaborate, communicate, and coordinate the needs of each student. You would think it’s important for your 6th grade son’s English teacher to let his math teacher know that he’s having trouble reading what’s on the board. Unfortunately, our schools aren’t really built that way. Teachers have so much work to do, or their off-time between classes is so inconsistent, that there’s not much time for collaboration. When teachers complain about class sizes, it’s not necessarily that 30 students in one class is a lot. It’s when you add up all the classes where you see their frustration. Imagine managing 150 students a day. Teachers and principals need time to collaborate and coordinate with each other. They need to share information about individual students so they can adjust their teaching and help them learn. This includes more peer observations, more team discussions, and a lot more time talking to each other in the most critical area – is the student learning in class?… time they don’t have now because of how the union contract has trapped the calendar.
Third, DOE needs to get rid of all its unnecessary tasks on teachers. Any unnecessary paperwork? Trash it. Programs and mandates that have nothing to do with learning? Get rid of ‘em. And for God’s sake, it’s time for DOE to use that federal money and purchase a laptop for every teacher. This way we can have teachers enter grades and remarks into the Parent Portal so parents can know how their children are doing throughout the school year. Not just that, these computers will cut down on menial work for teachers and give them access to more teaching resources.
Principals have a vital role to play as well. On top of their instructional leadership and the collaboration they can foster, principals should provide old-fashioned leadership. They need to hold the entire school community accountable for the teaching of the adopted curriculum and to providing all the interventions and supports to students falling behind. If there are school employees who are derelict in this duty, principals have an obligation to this community to send those people packing. Likewise, DOE needs to ensure principals are being fair and just… and that the principal evaluation holds them just as accountable as teachers. We cannot afford to have even one bad teacher influencing the minds of scores of students. At the same time, principals need to recognize the many outstanding teachers who show value-added learning in their classes. Celebrate their success. I believe this is the greatest reward for the teachers – to recognize that they make a difference in the lives of our kids.
The total revamping of the classroom requires us to rethink classrooms. Today’s world doesn’t depend on the amount of time a student spends in a classroom, but whether the student is learning up to high standards. But there’s no accountability in today’s system to ensure that happens. Teachers today are evaluated on whether they’ve taught what they’re supposed to teach. But that says nothing about learning. So the model needs to change… but it should only change if there is a strong curriculum and teachers have the tools they need for their students. The teacher evaluation system of the future should be totally different. It should include three key components that are absent from today’s model. First and foremost, part of the evaluation must include student perceptions. Research is showing that this is most strongly associated with good teaching. The second component is student growth while the student was under that teacher. Again, this can’t happen until there’s a true testing program that’s aligned with the curriculum. Third, the evaluation should include peer observations that are gathered using an objective method. It must be based on the performance standards adopted by the education board in 2006. And it must include a professional growth plan where learning targets are defined… based on the standards and evaluation observations.
Tying student achievement and outcomes to teaching practices provides accountability that learning is happening. It’s a concept that’s sorely missing in public schools today. It is probably why so many students are failing. But before we can even consider this model of accountability, we have to do our teachers justice and implement the curricular reforms before it. And we need to give them the tools they need to teach and ensure learning.
These reforms will ask a lot from teachers. It will require a lot of up-front training. It will reduce some of their workload, but that time will be absorbed by the time needed for collaboration and continuous professional development. It will give teachers and students the tools they need, but require time to understand how to use the tools. The last reform needed in teaching is essential for the other teaching reforms to work. Quite simply, teachers need a pay raise. Their pay needs to be competitive against the national average, not just because we want to retain and attract teachers. It’s because we want the teaching profession to be considered as it should be — as the noblest among all professions.
It’s no coincidence that the greatest man who ever walked this earth was fondly called “Teacher” by his disciples. The imparting of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is, by far, the most important field of work among mankind. It ensures the next generation lives on, and does better than the generation before. Teachers create doctors, managers, plumbers, soldiers… and every other profession on this earth.
Come hell or high water, our administration will find the means to make teachers whole and to improve the profession. It’s one of the main reasons we’re tackling fiscal reform. Resources need to be rearranged and re-prioritized if we are to meet our community’s commitment to teachers. And why shouldn’t we do it? Education is the first priority. Teachers are the key to this success.
Thank you and God bless you.
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