The Teaching Commission Releases Blockbuster Report

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The issue of teacher quality made newspapers around the country as The Teaching Commission a blue-ribbon panel headed by Lou Gerstner (former head of IBM) and including four governors, the head of AFT, Barbara Bush, former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, and other prominent leaders in business and education issued its report, "Teaching At Risk: A Call to Action." For those acquainted with the ongoing teacher quality debates, the report treads on familiar but important ground such as too many underqualified teachers, a broken compensation system and high attrition.

Given the panel s makeup, the Commission took a particularly brave stand on performance pay, suggesting a 30% pay raise for teachers who raise student achievement while endorsing a 10% pay hike for all teachers. The report cites education economist Eric Hanushek, noting that student achievement is directly related to individual productivity and earnings and to national economic growth, and that if we can take a long-term view of the investment, roughly equivalent to 10% of the U.S. Department of Education annual budget, that the pay raises would pay for themselves through increased economic growth.

The Teaching Commission also calls for increased accountability in teacher education. It recommends that universities take more responsibility for their colleges of education by recruiting stronger students into teaching programs, requiring at least a minor in an academic subject, tailoring pedagogy courses to research results, and increasing real world exposure of education students to prevent faddism. The commission also recommends exactly what the state of Ohio implemented last week measuring the results of colleges of education to see how many of its graduates become teachers and how well they do in raising student achievement.

The Commission also challenges states to revamp or even overhaul their licensure systems. At a minimum, the report asks that states raise their passing scores on certification exams to ensure that they have a rigorous test for subject content and essential skills rather than the risibly low standards that are in place today which is exactly what North Carolina didn t do this week when it dumped its testing program. In addition to raising standards, the Commission also calls for lowering bureaucratic barriers to entry that keep many strong candidates out of the classroom.

Finally, the Commission seeks to change the power relations between school districts, principals, and teachers. School districts must allow principals to be effective building-level managers by giving the authority to make personnel decisions. Other recommendations would transform school leadership: principals must be drawn from a broader pool of talented professionals ("non-traditional" sources), teachers must be given better mentorship/induction programs and professional development that is aligned to rigorous state standards rather than an ad hoc collection of fads.

Never mind the predictable complaints that these issues have been done to death. Given the makeup of this commission, the report is a shot across the bow, signifying a progressive shift in thinking. We congratulate the Commission on a noteworthy accomplishment.