Telling Congress to Support Teachers and School Leaders

The United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP Committee) has been moving forward quickly in its rewriting of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Last week, it heard from parents, teachers and experts on the importance of annual testing and accountability. This week, the hearing focused on supporting teachers and school leaders, an incredibly important aspect of the federal K-12 education law.

What Do the Senators Say?

Sen. Lamar Alexander made it clear in his opening statement that even when it comes to policies that he strongly supports—like paying effective teachers more and improving evaluation systems— he doesn’t believe in legislating those policies from Washington D.C. However, one of the committee’s expert witnesses, Dr. Daniel Goldhaber, said that the “old style” evaluation systems are wrong and “inadequate for addressing the needs of educators” and stressed the important role the federal government plays in encouraging innovation in teacher and leader support and development. Sen. Patty Murray articulated her support to invest more in teachers in order to attract the best and the brightest to the field, develop more robust career paths, invest in high quality residency and mentorship programs, and make sure the most effective teachers are with the students that need them the most. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was concerned about the current draft proposal’s “Title II provisions” (i.e., requirements for how states spend federal formula dollars allocated to teachers and school leaders). Warren criticized the draft as being “not a responsible use of federal tax dollars,” saying, “We keep asking more and more and more of our teachers, but this Republican draft proposal doesn’t do a single thing to make sure that states will actually use this federal money to help teachers do their jobs.”

What Do the Teacher and Stakeholder Groups Say?

In response to yesterday’s hearing, several groups weighed in: TeachPlus provided a comprehensive list of priorities in its open letter to the leadership of the Senate and House education committees, including:
  • Improving the ability of schools to attract the best teaching talent.
  • Encouraging teacher-led professional development.
  • Revamping teacher preparation programs.
  • Providing equitable opportunities for students and schools most in need.
  • Maintaining statewide annual assessments while reducing over-testing at the district level.
https://twitter.com/teachplus/status/560156741422579713 Education Trust live-tweeted Tuesday’s hearing, providing quotes from those who testified and members of the committee, as well as retweeting others. https://twitter.com/EdTrust/status/560109674033598465 Teach For America released a statement from co-CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard, stressing that:
Any federal education legislation must recognize that high quality teachers are imperative to ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn and succeed, and must enable the supports and provide the resources to attract and retain high-quality teachers in high-need schools.
Villanueva Beard goes on:
Regardless of the path a teacher takes to the classroom, that teacher should be held to the same high standards, which must include student growth and other outcome measures.
While TFA is pleased to see some competitive funding streams, the statement encourages additional federal investment in:
Innovative models of recruiting, preparing and retaining teachers and school leaders, at the local and state levels, that demonstrate evidence of effectiveness must continue to be incentivized in order to improve student achievement from early childhood through high school. As a large teacher recruitment and preparation entity, we have seen how such programs can create and sustain great schools, especially in rural communities where the talent pipelines for school leadership are particularly small.
Center for American Progress (CAP) came out in support of using multiple measures for teacher evaluation because it is needed to “inform instruction and professional development.” Their statement also urged that the federal role should raise the bar for entering the teaching profession. https://twitter.com/EdProgress/status/560096351355404288 https://twitter.com/EdProgress/status/560093558074777600 Furthermore, after the hearing, CAP released a new report, 5 Reasons Why Sen. Alexander’s Education Bill Fails Teachers, outlining both the missed opportunities of the Alexander proposal and, more upsetting, how the bill could potentially take the teaching profession and the field backwards. Where Does That Leave Us? A clear takeaway from the hearing is that Sen. Alexander does not plan to require states and districts to implement teacher or leader evaluation systems. He’s also against requiring states to target resources towards supporting and developing educators—essentially ignoring the urgent need to improve these systems and supports. However, it is unclear where the rest of the committee will land. We can only hope they take the lessons learned from the last 12 years by replacing and strengthening the old, inadequate systems and supports and incentivizing innovation and evidence-based practices through the use of these Title II dollars.
Ann Whalen
Ann Whalen is senior advisor to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Prior to returning to the U.S. Department of Education, she served as the director of policy for Education Post. Whalen has served more than five years in the Obama Administration with the U.S. Department of Education. At the department, Ann was director of the Implementation and Support Unit, providing technical assistance to ...

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