Everyone once in a while, the government does something that surprises me. Today was one of those days.
The Department of Education released its final rules for the "Race to the Top" competition. In the matrix were all the things they had been talking about including
- State Success factors including buy-in for reform initiatives
- Standards and assessments
- Data systems for instructional support
- Great teachers and leaders
- Turning around Lowest-Achieving Schools
These categories included all the things we were hearing about like states' buy-in on education reform, initiating or expanding charter school programs, developing and implementing better data gathering systems.
But what really surprised me was this: the category of "Great teachers and leaders" was the single highest factor in the list. At 138 points, improving teacher and principal effectiveness will be rated higher than improving data systems (possible 50 points) and turning around low-achieving schools (47 pts) -- combined.
And, if you look at the sub-categories for rating, "Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance" is given a possible 58 pts alone.
Now, this is great, but the devil is always in the details. HOW do we make teachers more effective? Some argue that pay for performance is the way, but we've already discussed how it's not fair to tie pay to performance without giving teachers the tools to be more effective.
This runs right on the heels of an article published in The Apple this week that reported on the 7 biggest challenges teachers face. The #1 challenge reported by teachers was "bad student behavior."
We know that there is a high degree of time lost in the classroom due to unruly and disruptive students. At the same time, the Administration is tying improvements in teacher effectiveness to Race to the Top dollars.
I think there's a sign here.
It's back to my main point: we have to provide integrated education that gives kids those skills that allow them to be more successful in a classroom environment. At the same time, we give teachers a framework by which they can design, implement and enforce classroom management frameworks tied into what students are learning. This way, teachers have the "master game plan" and are teaching kids crucial lifeskills that fit into that overall plan. Less disruption means more learning. More learning leads to better achievement and teachers are able to have more productive time in the classroom.
It sounds so simple; you'd think everyone would be doing it. But, it's the toughest "sell" you'll ever have. It takes an enlightened administration to admit that they need to try something new. Particularly when they are used to seeing "solutions" in terms of what they know. And, it stands to reason that "more effective teaching" has something to do with better funding, more programs, more teacher in-service days or smaller classrooms.
But we've done all that and it hasn't helped.
Before we start throwing another nearly $5B at the same old problems, in the same old way, let's really take a look at what is causing the problems. Until we do that, we can race all we want and find we get no closer to the finish line.