To HQT or not to HQT

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When reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will actually happen is anybody's guess, but there's little doubt that teacher quality issues will be a major area of attention. Based on our work during the decade of No Child Left Behind and our mission to help ensure that every child has an effective teacher, NCTQ joins the chorus of policy wonks, pundits and pontificators offering reauthorization recommendations in Removing the Roadblocks: How Federal Policy Can Cultivate Effective Teachers.

We think the general reauthorization principles the Obama Administration has laid out for excellence in the teaching profession are sound. We do need to establish more effective pathways into teaching. We do need to get more effective teachers to the students who need them most, and we do need to do more to recognize, encourage and reward excellence in teaching. In this sense, we find ourselves joining a chorus of advocates calling for moving from highly qualified to highly effective teachers.

However, we think that a serious effort to cultivate highly effective teachers requires us to be clear and honest about the full range of policies needed to transform the profession. Cultivating excellence and truly improving access to effective teachers will mean not only growing more effective teachers, but also attending to ineffective teaching—ideally, right from the start—in programs that prepare prospective teachers and later by making politically difficult but necessary choices about tenure, promotion and dismissal for teachers who are consistently ineffective. With this full range of policy choices in mind, NCTQ offers a set of ESEA reauthorization recommendations that include:

  • Developing value-added measures and teacher evaluation systems based on teacher effectiveness;
  • Fixing HQT requirements to ensure that a qualified teacher is a teacher who knows his/her subject as demonstrated by performance on a rigorous content test;
  • Collecting meaningful data and developing workable policies around ensuring that all students have access to effective teachers;
  • Removing any remaining barriers to alternate routes into the teaching profession;
  • Strengthening accountability for teacher preparation programs; and
  • Tying discretionary grant opportunities to the adoption of "break the mold" state and district policies that can help identify, recruit and retain effective teachers.

Not all teacher policies ought to be mandated from on high from Congress, of course. In offering our recommendations, NCTQ means not to overstate the federal role in teacher policy reform, nor to argue for a larger federal role. We argue that Title II should be converted to a competitive program aimed at teacher policy innovators, but we also offer some cautions against Congress' inclination to intervene in states and districts in ways that could backfire.