From guest blogger Emmy Partin, Fordham's writer and researcher in the Ohio office:
I'm in DC for the 19th Education Trust national conference. I was proud to be a Buckeye during last night's dinner when Ohio's Wells Elementary--located in Steubenville in the heart of the Midwest's Rust Belt--was awarded a "Dispelling the Myth" award for its success at closing the achievement gap. Despite a student body that is 47 percent non-White, 65 percent low-income, and highly mobile, Wells has boasted perennial high academic achievement. In 2007-08, 100 percent of the school's fifth graders passed the state reading, science, and social studies exams and 83 percent passed the math test.
This morning's plenary speaker was Jason Kamras. Kamras is a former DC middle-school teacher and national teacher of the year who is now DC Public Schools' director for human capital strategy for teachers. Kamras-speaking on behalf of himself, and not his district or its chancellor-offered five steps for getting a high quality teacher in every classroom:
1. A great principal in every school. Great teachers want to work for great principals who are instructional leaders first and share the passion and drive to help all kids learn.
2. Make it easier to remove low-performing teachers. Great teachers want to work with other great teachers so the profession must become passionate about quality and not accepting mediocrity within its ranks.
3. Provide support commensurate with accountability. Start with continuous professional development that is job-embedded and differentiated by need.
4. Create new opportunities for high-performing teachers. Allow them to stay in the classroom while still taking on new roles and trying new things (think robust career ladders and lattices).
5. Radically rethink compensation. Reward high performing teachers with significantly more money. Kamras noted that simply paying teachers more, even a whole lot more, won't necessarily ratchet up their performance. Rewards for performance would fundamentally change the perception of the profession and thus increase the quality and quantity of the applicant pool.
Along the lines of teacher compensation, Kamras offered additional suggestions:
- Stop spending on what doesn't work, like Ph.D.s for classroom teachers.
- Restructure the salary schedule so that salaries for top performers go up fast and early.
- Differentiate pay based on performance. Kamras chided that if our nation could win two World Wars, cure Polio, put a man on the moon, and invent the Internet then surely we could figure out differentiated pay for teachers.
- Restructure retirement plans by making them portable, flexible, and not back-loaded. Ohio should pay particular attention to this.
Yes, none of this would be easy to do-especially not in Ohio where money is tight and teacher unions are powerful. But perhaps maybe the time is right for the Buckeye State to make the changes needed to get a top-notch teacher in front of every child. Roughly one-third of our teachers are expected retire by 2015. If we have to replace them anyhow, why not do so with really great ones?