New Reports Offer Guidance on Improving Teacher Quality

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Strong teachers can boost student learning just as weak teachers can undermine it. And the impact that a strong or weak teacher can have on students who are behind, as many low-income students are, can make a huge difference in students’ long-term success.

Robust teacher evaluation systems are a useful tool for identifying teachers who need help, and Ed Week’s Steven Sawchuk highlighted two valuable resources this week for those charged with setting up these systems: Craig Jerald's paper for the Center for American Progress, and the Aspen Institute Education and Society Program’s paper by Rachel Curtis and Ross Weiner.

Both reports emphasize the importance of building evaluation systems that center on developing teachers and improving instruction. The authors caution that professional development shouldn’t just target struggling teachers; all teachers — strong or struggling — deserve opportunities to improve their craft.

These papers prioritize improvement as a primary aim of evaluations, but they also underscore the necessity of combining strategies for teacher development with holding teachers responsible for their impact on students. As the Aspen report states, “meeting this goal [of fostering professional growth] cannot be done at the expense of accountability or other goals.”

Helping teachers improve and holding them responsible for student achievement is especially important in our high-needs schools, where research shows too many low-performing teachers are concentrated.   As policymakers look for ways to increase teacher effectiveness, Jerald’s paper contends that while some low-performing teachers may need to be removed from the profession, this should not — and cannot — be the only solution. Strategic staffing policies combined with a serious focus on improvement are critical to raising the quality of teaching our neediest students receive.

—Melissa Tooley and Sarah  Almy