America's tomorrow depends on the the quality of education today. And the quality of education depends foremost on the quality of teachers. That's settled science. However, too often, our nation does not value teaching as a profession in which quality matters.
The current challenges facing the teaching profession are well documented. To begin with, the profession has lost its appeal to talented college students. The requirements for entry into colleges of education are notoriously low—in some states lower than the academic requirements for being an NCAA athlete. And in most cases the pay is the same whether you do an outstanding job or not, and no matter which grades and subjects you're willing to teach. What also hurts the profession is that traditional teacher preparation generally fails to add value, with repeated studies showing little difference between teachers who have gone through traditional teacher preparation programs and those who have done fast-track, alternative routes. Once teachers are in the classroom, professional development does little to enhance their ability and is often viewed as a waste of time. Making matters worse, we pay a heavy price for insisting that all teachers be put on a level playing field, squandering the opportunity to showcase superior talent and, ironically, elevate the stature of all teachers.
By no means are these problems the fault of teachers—past, present, or those in the pipeline. They are the result of institutional inertia, inattention to what we have learned from research and other nations, and fierce politicization.
Which institutions bear responsibility for the profession's health? Higher education institutions, which prepare 90 percent of all new teachers too often dismiss the needs of their end users, schools. It continues with school districts whose words and actions will determine if teaching is a great choice or a job to swiftly leave behind. Looming over both these institutions are states. State laws and regulations permeate the profession, holding a level of authority which many may not fully appreciate.
We have become well known as a tough critic of these institutions but our purpose is constructive, not destructive. We do not advocate blowing them all up and starting over again. While a long way from perfect, we believe that these institutions act as a fairly sensible structure for supporting and governing teachers. It is raising the quality of their decision-making which is our obsession. Too many policymakers are making decisions absent data to inform and guide them. Our best hope is to arm them with good data—revealing how each institution stands compared to the others, be they states or other school districts, or teacher prep programs. By elevating the quality of decision making, we elevate the profession. That is reason for optimism.