We recently revisited the findings of a now 20-year old policy report on teacher quality, What Matters Most, published by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future in the fall of 1996. At that time, one of us — Jessica — was a public high-school student, and the other — Barnett — a former teacher and then education researcher, helped develop the report.
The 1996 report called on policymakers to invest in teachers. NCTAF advocated for raising standards for entry into the profession while also promoting innovative schools explicitly designed for students (and teachers who serve them) to engage in deeper learning. While there has been some progress on a number of fronts — including growing numbers of teacher-powered schools, like Social Justice Humanitas Academy in Los Angeles, we are still far from providing an equitable and excellent public education for all students.
Simply stated, as highlighted by the new NCTAF report released in August, What Matters Now: A New Compact for Teaching and Learning, we haven’t made the aspirational progress outlined in the initial report with respect to the kinds of teacher development systems our students deserve. High stakes accountability has tamped down innovative teaching, and poor working conditions that drive up teacher turnover, particularly in our highest need school communities, are two of the many teacher recruitment, retention and support challenges that still persist.
The clarion call of the 1996 NCTAF report was to spur teacher development in the name of serving all students well, grounded in the fundamental belief that K-12 education is a public good, and professionalizing teaching is critical to ensure both equitable and excellent learning outcomes for all students. Despite evidence that school choice exacerbates existing inequalities, the president-elect has implied the focus of the new USDOE will be to promote vouchers for parents to send their children to private schools. This strategy will result in a lack of investment in the schools and community infrastructures that will serve all students, regardless of zip codes. But we remain optimistic about the future.
Despite the impending full blown attack on public education, the education forecast for 2017, has some bright possibilities.
Teachers are already leaning into the chaos of today, using it as a powerful teaching tool for their students and themselves. We see teachers capitalizing on:
- The Every Student Succeeds Act, which will turn high stakes accountability on its side, creating safe spaces — with curriculum educators collectively assemble virtually — so all students are able to ask questions and engage in deeper learning while exercising their first amendment rights in classrooms rooted in democracy;
- Growing networks like the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), EdCamps and Teaching Partners that can help educators spread their expertise to each other in 24/7 virtual environments; and
- Educational entrepreneurs, like those at Digital Promise, who are opening up opportunities through micro-credentials for teachers to lead their own learning, document their impact, and go public with their ideas.
There is so much we do not know. And while we are not claiming that 2017 will be a better year for students and the teachers who serve and teach them, we remain steadfast and hopeful. We echo the words of our teaching colleague and CTQ board member, Renee Moore of Mississippi, who told us several years ago about the long journey to professionalize teaching in the best interests of students and communities as well as democracy itself: “Where we are in five years depends on teachers.” The onus is on all who believe public education is a common good, to transform chaos into progress.
Barnett Berry is founder and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), which launched the nation’s first virtual network of teacher leaders in 2003. The CTQ Collaboratory now includes more than 10,000 members—fueling unique opportunities for teachers to lead boldly without leaving the classroom. Barnett is a former classroom teacher, think tank analyst, senior state education agency policy leader, and university professor. His two books, TEACHING 2030 and Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave, frame a bold vision for the profession’s future. He serves in an advisory and consulting capacity with several organizations and initiatives committed to transforming America’s public education system.
Jessica Cuthbertson is a National Board Certified Teacher who currently works at the Center for Teaching Quality, framing strategy for CTQ’s communications and supporting thought leadership efforts in collaboration with teacher leaders and education stakeholders. Prior to joining CTQ full-time, she worked in K-12 public education for over thirteen years and served as a middle school English teacher, an instructional coach, and a teacherpreneur. Connect with her on Twitter @JJCuthy.
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