Teacher Quality and the Future of our Profession
Research on teacher quality increasingly shows a correlation between the caliber of classroom teaching and student achievement.
The issue of teacher quality is one of the most important topics in K-12 education today. States have long required some form or level of standardized certification to gain entry into our profession. The traditional certification involves training in pedagogy and grade level content. This training is dominated by universities who prepare pre-professional teachers to meet the licensure requirements of a given state. As student performance data becomes increasingly accessible, the impact of classroom teachers becomes more obvious. The notion of value-added has also changed the conversation about teacher quality. With more emphasis placed on accountability and greater access to data, it is logical to look at student gains in a given year and credit at least some of that growth to the quality of classroom teaching. Was this the intent of NCLB's emphasis on highly qualified teachers? What is a highly qualified teacher? How do we measure the value added in a given year? What measures are appropriate for better understanding the impact teacher quality has on student achievement?
Research in the field of teacher quality emphasizes the benefit of a high quality teacher and negative impact of a low quality teacher. This is not a new understanding. Hanushek (1992) found "that all else equal, a student with a very high-quality teacher will achieve a learning gain of 1.5 grade level equivalents, while a student with a low-quality teacher will achieve a gain of only 0.5 grade level equivalents" (Goldhaber, 2004, pg. 4-5). The cumulative effect of this range of teacher quality is significant. Why is there so much variance in the quality of instruction our students receive? Are there common elements, characteristics, or preparation programs that lead towards higher or lower teacher quality?
There is enough data to support the notion that teachers matter, but much less consensus around how and why they matter. What are the immediate next steps for classroom, school, and district leaders? What role must post-secondary institutions play in identifying and preparing future educators? Ultimately, what are the most logical and effective means of ensuring the highest level of teacher quality in classrooms across our country? To meet the needs of our savvy and sophisticated students, and to prepare them to thrive in the complex world in which they live, we must transform the K-12 learning environment and consistently identify, support, and incentivize high quality teaching.