Feb. 5, 2010, Policy Breakfast Series: Benchmarking teacher quality for policymakers in Minnesota
On Feb. 5, more than 200 of Minnesota's top education leaders and policymakers met at the University of Minnesota to discuss how to develop, measure, and support teacher effectiveness and quality. The question is a timely one. Federal and state policy measures--Race to the Top and Q Comp, for example--tie education funding to teacher quality. Additionally, teacher effectiveness has been found to be the most important school-based variable affecting student achievement.
Hosted by the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development and moderated by Karen Seashore, the Robert H. Beck Professor of Ideas in Education, a panel of state and national experts shared perspectives from across the spectrum of the education industry. Panel members included Misty Sato, who holds the new Carmen Starkson Campbell Endowed Chair in Education; Bush Foundation President Peter Hutchinson; St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva, Teach for America President Matthew Kramer; and Garnet Franklin, education issues specialist for Education Minnesota.
Sato laid out the research on teacher quality and charged the audience to think of investing in teacher quality as an investment in children. She focused on the teaching profession as a cycle, from recruitment and preparation, early career support, and ongoing professional development. The ultimate goal, she said, is for the most effective, experienced teachers to become master teachers who can help those who are new to the profession.
She highlighted a number of teacher effectiveness initiatives nationwide, including two at the University's College of Education and Human Development. The Teacher Support Partnership--a collaboration between the college, the Minnesota Department of Education, Education Minnesota, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities--has developed guidelines for supporting early career teachers. The college's Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI) is building partnerships with the schools where graduates of the teacher preparation program will teach.
"TERI is as much about developing schools into places of professional support and learning as it is about redesigning teacher preparation at the U," Sato said.
As part of TERI, the college is also the lead institution among state teacher preparation programs working with the Minnesota Department of Education on a national pilot assessment for pre-service teachers.
The panel members followed with their perspectives on teacher quality, based in their individual positions and experiences in the education field. Bush Foundation President Peter Hutchinson reiterated the call for ongoing partnerships between Pre-K-12 schools and districts and colleges of education. The foundation has funded TERI with a $4.5 million grant--part of a $40 million investment in seven regional higher education partners over the next 10 years. The overall Bush initiative promotes ongoing collaboration between preparation programs, which track and guarantee their graduates' effectiveness, and school districts.
"This relationship in which the two sides are really working on one problem is absolutely essential," Hutchinson said, "and in many ways this is the most profound policy change we need to see. We need to actually integrate the work of the higher education system with the work of the K-12 system in order for this to work successfully."
Hutchinson and the other panel members also sounded the need for preparing teachers for the reality of the classrooms they face today, where students may face high poverty or speak a language other than English at home. Silva, Franklin and others also highlighted the need for an ongoing system-wide commitment to teacher professional development.
The panel then addressed a number of issues posed by Seashore related to attracting and retaining high quality teachers and specific policy recommendations to meet those challenges. Though some disagreed on controversial topics such as tenure and alternative teacher preparation, they all expressed their commitment and urgency towards solving the complex challenges of an educational system that does not work for all students. They also repeated the vitality of cooperation across higher education, pre-K-12 and state systems.
Sato warned against playing the blame game. "We have to bring together expertise in higher education, in districts, at the state level, and work on different parts of the system simultaneously with some leadership and coordination," she said. Sato called for policymakers to provide a way to coordinate pockets of quality work already underway in colleges and classrooms.
For information on the CEHD Policy Breakfast Series, see http://www.cehd.umn.edu/policy/