WHEN Alcoholics Anonymous was founded, its members devised 12 steps that they believed would help members regain sobriety. The first three steps required them to 1) admit they were powerless over alcohol, 2) believe that a power greater 1/4 than themselves could restore them to sanity, and 3) turn their will and lives over to the care of God as they understood Him. (1) As victims of addiction, they surrendered to a higher power to begin the process of recovery.
Educators and the public have followed similar steps, trusting in our leaders to cure the diseases afflicting American education. For the most part we have 1) admitted we are powerless over the current condition of education, 2) conceded that educational leaders can restore to America's public schools some level of sanity, and 3) surrendered our autonomy to those leaders and allowed them to prescribe cures for these conditions.
What is ironic is that the treatment educational leaders continue to prescribe is the epitome of insanity. It is insane to repeat the same behavior in the hope that results will be different next time, but that is what educational leaders continue to do. Though there is virtually no evidence to support the claim that high-stakes tests increase student achievement,2 educational leaders continue to insist that high-stakes tests increase student achievement. They justify this claim by evoking the promises implicit in high-stakes tests: order, control, high standards and accountability, illusions of equity, and objectivity.
Educators and the public have allowed educational leaders to hold the keys to reform. Now we must entice educational leaders to rejoin us in our democracy and work with us to enact insightful, data-driven policies to improve student achievement. We must recognize what ails us, learn from our failures, apply logic and common sense, advocate radical policies, and shift resources toward reforms that we know will work. In the name of equity, we must promote high-quality education first for students who need our help the most--the children tragically "left behind" in spite of the misguided mandates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Let me hereby issue a double-dog dare to educational leaders and policy makers at every level to do what is right for America's public school students. We must increase the quality of teachers and the number of expert teachers in hard-to-staff schools because that might be the best solution for raising the historically substandard levels of student achievement in those schools.
RECRUITING EXPERT TEACHERS INTO HARD-TO-STAFF SCHOOLS
America's most highly qualified teachers are under represented in America's most challenging schools. Across the nation, only about 15% of America's expert teachers teach in high-poverty, underachieving schools. (3) Most expert teachers teach in schools with fewer racial minority students, fewer students from low-income households, and fewer students who are English-language learners. And they teach in schools with smaller than average student/teacher ratios.
Teacher quality is the biggest school-level factor related to the success or failure of students in hard-to-staff schools. (4) Research aside, simple logic tells us that to improve substandard levels of student achievement, more expert teachers must be recruited to teach in these schools. Common sense tells us that, because these schools are hard to staff, policies must be devised to attract expert teachers to them and then to retain those teachers. In addition, the voices of expert teachers should be heard loud and clear when such policy debates occur.
Expert teachers have three significant characteristics that make it important to include them in discussions of school reform. First, they have significant experience working in schools; this fact alone sets them apart from most educational leaders. Second, they produce gains in student achievement greater than the gains produced by other state-certified teachers. …