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How can America retain quality teachers?

Working to improve teacher quality

Teacher quality has been identified as a key component in improving educational outcomes. Those who are interested in education — parents, government officials, school administrators — agree that teacher quality is a critical matter, since developing an educated workforce is tied to economic competitiveness. Increasing teaching salaries and incentives for teachers' education are two methods that have been discussed to raise quality; yet, the question remains: What is the right path to producing better teachers? 

Jonathan Lewis, MAEd, faculty member for the University of Phoenix College of Education at the Phoenix Main Campus, suggests that we need to begin with defining what it is we want, and encourage longevity in the profession. “Everyone wants teacher quality,” he explains. “The best thing would be for Congress to look at what a quality teacher is and what an educational program that prepares teachers should entail. We need a more sustainable educational model that would help teachers to continue on that pathway, because we find that the longer they’re a teacher, the better they are.”

We need a more sustainable educational model that would help teachers to continue on that pathway, because we find that the longer they're a teacher, the better they are.

While noting that the role of educators is one of the biggest influencers of student learning, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan favors a different approach. In an article that he co-authored with Angel Gurría the secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Fred van Leeuwen, the general secretary of Education International, Duncan suggests modeling teacher recruitment practices after Singapore. In the article, “Uncommon Wisdom on Teaching,” the authors note, “Today, Singapore offers teaching internships for top-performing students starting in high school. It carefully selects promising adolescents from the top third of high school seniors and offers them a competitive monthly stipend while still in school.”

The promising candidates are also offered teaching internships, a teacher education program and 100 hours of professional development per year in exchange for at least three years of teaching diverse student populations.

Duncan and associates also propose teachers unions work with local and federal governments to increase student achievement.

Lewis doesn't favor aggressive recruitment and points out countries like Finland and Singapore require teachers to work for only a few years in exchange for an advanced teacher’s education, a practice that could result in short-changing students. “In Finland, teachers usually only have to teach five years before they move on to what they think are better things,” he explains.

Lewis agrees collaboration among all educational entities is important, but says that the federal government can only go so far in providing a resolution to teacher quality. “It’s certainly true that educational reform is overdue, but we have to keep in mind that the federal government doesn’t have the constitutional authority to enact legislation to get states and schools to conform; but they do have the authority to tie compliance to cutting back school funding.”

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