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'No Silver Bullet' for Great Teaching

The consensus at an education-policy forum on developing great teachers and leaders, held in Washington on July 27, was that teacher-centered efforts that support professional development and effective performance evaluations have the most impact on improving instruction. The briefing, hosted by two education nonprofits—the Washington-based National Commission on Teaching and America's Future and the Portland, Ore.-based Chalkboard Project—featured six panelists who each shared their recommendations on how to improve state- and district-level teacher policies across the country. Rather than engaging in a back-and-forth discussion, panelists took turns presenting their policy solutions to the audience of fewer than two dozen people.

The discussion often steered back to the CLASS (Creative Leadership Achieves Student Success) Project, an initiative aimed at helping school districts in Oregon implement new models for improving teacher effectiveness. CLASS is funded by the Chalkboard Project, which conducts research and pilot programs in Oregon's K-12 schools. Dan Jamison, Chalkboard's vice president of education policy, explained that CLASS offers teachers mentoring and professional development as well as designs performance evaluations and compensation systems that reward effective teachers. CLASS uses a variety of methods to improve teacher effectiveness, said Jamison, because "there is no silver bullet." Teacher retention and student achievement have improved in the districts CLASS has partnered with, according to Jamison.

Rob Weil, deputy director of education issues for the American Federation of Teachers, also emphasized the importance of having concrete results to back up initiatives aimed at improving teacher effectiveness. "You have to have examples of success, like Chalkboard, to model after and build off of that success," said Weil. Otherwise, he added, the same circular policy debates will continue without effecting change.

Panelist Joellen Killion of Learning Forward, the nonprofit professional group that writes an opinion blog on Education Week Teacher, proposed improving teacher effectiveness through strong mentoring programs, monitoring systems that look at the quality of professional development programs offered, and stable funding for PD programs. "Because without professional development, we'll see a decline in learning for our educators, and in turn, a decline in learning for our students," said Killion.

Dan Jones, a teacher and a coordinator for CLASS at Bend-La Pine Schools in Bend, Ore., suggested improving the teaching force by "giving higher education institutions a wake up call" to ensure that they are producing highly trained teachers. The only teacher on the panel, he also emphasized the need to secure effective administrators to run schools. "[Administrators] are the second most influential factor in determining student achievement—teachers being the first," said Jones.

Jones also pointed out that he had only been evaluated seven times in his 37-year teaching career. "If that's what you're basing my effectiveness on, then that's not good," he said.

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