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Experts Weigh in on Raising the Status of Teachers

In The New York Times' Room for Debate feature, education experts address a hot-button question that many policymakers believe speaks to the major difference between the U.S. and countries with higher performing education systems (in fact, it's the very question I asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession): How do we raise the status of teachers in the U.S.?

While so much of the dialogue around this topic has been, well, hazy, the answers provided by these experts are, for the most part, impressively specific.

Kati Haycock, president of the Washington-based think tank The Education Trust, says the key to raising the profession's status is improving teacher preparation. "We must enrich the rigor and relevance of these [teacher preparation] programs and ratchet up their admissions requirements. We ought to help the strongest ones and close the weakest. "

Lance T. Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute, suggests creating a demand for high-quality instruction by allowing parents to choose their kids' teachers. "Giving parents more school-choice tools would spur competition that would force states and school districts to change ineffective teacher policies, produce better teachers, raise student achievement, increase parental satisfaction, and lead to higher status for teachers."

According to Michael J. Petrilli, the executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the current compensation system for teachers is "designed to repel ambitious individuals." Raising teacher starting pay, accelerating raises, paying teachers for taking on additional responsibilities such as mentoring, and making retirement benefits portable would up the profession's status. "Finance this all by allowing class sizes to rise modestly, maximizing smart uses of technology, and trimming the number of aides and specialists our schools employ," he writes.

And Patrick Welsh, a high school English teacher in Alexandria, Va., (full disclosure: he was my 12th grade English teacher) writes that raising the status of teachers is a nice idea and all, but it won't do much to boost student achievement. Reverence for teachers is a result of a cultural difference, he says, and "to glorify the education systems of relatively homogeneous countries like Singapore and Finland as models while denigrating American schools faced with far greater challenges is ridiculous."

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