January 10, 2011

Loan Forgiveness, “TEACH” Scholarships Could Be Better Utilized To Help Teachers 
Call to Action Part of DFER’s ‘Ticket to Teach’ Policy Proposals
A more serious conception of the place of the teacher in the life of the nation is both necessary and timely. [I urge] changing the systems that support poorly trained, paid and esteemed teachers.”

Henry Wyman Holmes, Dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1920

Over the last century, there have been dozens of reports and calls to action to improve teacher preparation, pay, performance, and prestige. Unfortunately, despite such declarations, Dean Holmes’ words are no less apt today than they were 90 years ago.

Some help is on the way. New investments by the federal government and private philanthropists have launched literally hundreds of state and local policy initiatives to improve teacher effectiveness. Most of these efforts aim to develop better teacher evaluation systems and to target professional development and support to those teachers who need it most. Some go a step further and use evaluations to determine certification, promotion, and tenure.

These initiatives are groundbreaking. But they will fall far short of their potential unless they are accompanied by, and integrated with, equally ambitious reforms in teacher recruitment, preparation, and pay.

As McKinsey and Co. (2010) found, the countries with the highest achieving students make a concerted effort to recruit, develop, and retain the “top third+” candidates to the teaching profession. In contrast, in the U.S., more than 90% of the highest-achieving college students say they are not even considering becoming teachers. “Of [reasons given] the most important job attributes include prestige and peer group appeal, but compensation is the biggest gap between teaching and their chosen professions.”

We need to change that equation.

Certain things can be done toward fulfilling these goals now, by everyone in a position of authority in public education, without enacting a single new policy or allocating one additional dime of taxpayer money. Every Governor, state education chief, school administrator, and college President needs to recognize what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan calls “The New Normal” and make a serious and determined effort to better deploy dozens of programs already on the books, which are incredibly–frankly, embarrassingly–unknown, underutilized, or ineffective:

• hundreds of millions of dollars in available federal loan forgiveness for teachers who serve in high-need schools, specialties (e.g., bilingual and special education) and subject areas (math and science). This is voluntary differential pay that does not require changes in contracts; Targeted pay bonuses like these can and should be part and parcel of a broader set of incentives to recruit and retain talented teachers, and to equalize the distribution of effective educators to schools with high proportions of poor and minority children;

• federal post-secondary tuition scholarships of up to $4,000 per year (i.e., “TEACH”)–3 years old and still not fully implemented–to get the best and brightest to commit to teach in hard-to-staff schools and disciplines and, in exchange, pay for their pre-service education and training;

• income-contingent loan repayment for teachers, with smaller monthly payments and a complete write-off of any existing balances after 10 years of service for all teachers;

• unenforced and underdeveloped accountability provisions under the Higher Education Act that require states to identify low-performing schools of education and take appropriate corrective action, including ultimately shutting down the poorest performers.

But we shouldn’t stop there.

We propose a “Ticket to Teach” (T3) for the next generation of educators, an “all hands on deck” effort between government, higher education, and the private sector. T3 would launch pilot efforts that vertically integrate pre-service recruitment, rigorous coursework and practicums, tuition assistance, internships/residencies, professional development, mentoring, scrupulous evaluation systems, higher pay, and financial incentives for placement and performance.

We think the model that the Obama Administration has adopted through Race to the Top, under which the federal government acts as venture philanthropist to fund groundbreaking reform efforts assembled by key state and local stakeholders, is a promising one. Think of the pilot efforts under Ticket to Teach as charter schools of education that will promote innovation and create competition that drives change in our current, outdated system of teacher preparation.

To read our “Ticket to Teach” white paper, the first in a series on “The New Normal” in public education, click here.