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'Reciprocal Accountability' for Teachers

The forum on teacher support I attended on Nov. 5 raised some interesting ideas about how to improve teaching quality. In this post I'm going to attempt to make a little bit of sense of them.

A comprehensive system for teacher support, the panelists said, starts with a clear definition of high-quality teaching. Supports are built around how to foster it and bolster it, how to determine whether teachers are practicing it, how to offer teachers who are struggling opportunities to ask for and receive help, and ultimately how to build additional professional opportunities for veterans that feed back into this system.

Policywise, they indicated, an optimal teacher-support system would include these pieces:

1) Standards for high-quality teaching
2) Teacher evaluation tied to these standards
3) Peer review and assistance to support struggling teachers, again keyed to standards, ending in dismissal for those who repeatedly fail to improve
4) Establishment of professional learning communities
5) Differential pay based on evidence of high-quality teaching and student learning
6) A career ladder for the best teachers to take on mentoring and support roles for other teachers.

A couple of panelists, such as former Prince George's County, Md., superintendent John Deasy, said such systems build on the concept of "reciprocal accountability." In other words, the supports for teachers are set up and only then are teachers held accountable to high standards.

Now to the political subtext. Last night's forum was heavily attended by teachers, parents, and administrators who say Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is focused only on the teacher accountability piece.

So I went back through Rhee's recently announced five-year plan to see what her goals were for professional development. They include a comprehensive system for setting performance goals and benchmarks; a career ladder; and school-based coaches. Additionally, George Parker, the president of the Washington Teachers' Union, told me the last contract included professional development standards and provisions allowing for a career ladder, but these were never acted upon by Rhee's predecessor, Clifford Janey.

I don't follow the D.C. negotiations closely enough to know what the discussions are like on these proposals. But the foundations seem to be there. Now let's see if the officials in charge can act on Randi Weingarten's advice and find some way to make them work.

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