Monday, March 06, 2006

Improving Teacher Quality - Rethinking Schools 2006

Rethinking Schools in its Winter 2006 issue - hits it right on the head again with their great special issue on school reform strategies aimed at improving quality teaching, especially in urban school districts like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cincinatti.

"Districts, schools of education, unions, and legislatures all have a role to play in improving teacher quality. The time has come to stop viewing teachers as a problem and instead treat them as professionals deserving of respect, with important insights in how to improve the classroom.

One thing is certain: Unless this country addresses the vast racial and economic inequities that plague our schools, no one's definition of quality will be reached."

The editors point to the importance of teacher education programs around the country and urge them to "equip prospective teachers with a vision of what's possible as well as with the tools to dismantle the unjust."

Schools of education can also enhance quality by providing ongoing support for their graduates — whether through collaborations with
district and union mentoring programs, or through independent social justice teacher organizations...

The editors from Rethinking Schools also point out the important role of teachers unions in improving and reforming our educational system:

Teacher unions also can provide leadership. They are ideally situated to sponsor
curriculum libraries, ongoing seminars, and teacher work groups. They can also be a forum for teachers to discuss how to address and resist federal and district mandates that negatively impact teaching. Too often teachers rely solely on school districts to design curriculum and strategy workshops, but teacher unions could create their own collaborative communities of study and see their missions as developing an expanded professional capacity and sense of responsibility among their members.

In conclusion, they say that we must move beyond the 'silver bullet' approach to school reform:

School districts and individual schools must provide ongoing, embedded professional development and move beyond episodic visits of consultants and "teacher-proof" programs. School districts need to take a leading role in facilitating processes where teachers can share their expertise through districtwide curriculum conferences, ongoing classes, mentoring programs, and inservices that model outstanding teacher practices.

A number of the changes outlined above can be implemented even within our current and completely inadequate levels of school funding. But all of the changes require a radical shift in thinking and an acknowledgement that the knowledge and leadership of classroom teachers are the bedrock of improved teacher quality.
In the long run, addressing the crisis in teacher quality requires a multi-faceted mobilization that demands adequate state and federal resources for our public schools. To be most effective, this mobilization must include teacher unions, parents, and community organizations in alliance with local school boards and district administrators.
Improving teacher quality is key to building a better public school system. But it is not a matter of exhorting educators to do more with less, securing more teacher-proof curricula, or making test-driven threats. It's a matter of reform grounded in the classroom, of respect for teaching as a profession, of a broader vision of social justice, and of improved organizing and collaboration.
All of us — teachers, parents, and union, community and school leaders — have a role to play.

For the full editorial and some online articles from the recent Issue of Rethinking Schools
click here

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