By Jon Saphier - November 19, 2014
It’s simple to say but hard to do. A decade of research replicated all over the country confirms that individual teacher knowledge and skill are the most significant variables in student achievement. It’s the most important place to focus if we really want to improve student achievement.
The knowledge and skill to teach well is concrete, research validated, and field tested; but it is farmore extensive, complex, and subtle than most people acknowledge. To learn to use this complex professional knowledge at a high level of proficiency takes years if a teacher has access to it, and never happens at all for teachers who do not. This is also true for the skills of school leaders they report to.
You can’t fix a problem if you don’t define it properly. The problems in our lowest performing schools cannot be fixed by only working on testing, school organization, school governance, or school accountability. Nor are school privatization, school size, signing bonuses, competition, vouchers, fast track alternative certification, or adoption of business models the answer.
The real problem is that the majority of our teachers and school leaders don’t have access to the knowledge and skill they require. Why? Because they work in the context of an ineffective human resource system. The system that supports the development of our educator workforce is fragmented, under-developed, and unaligned with professional knowledge. As a result, the schools that need them the most don’t have enough teachers with enough teaching expertise or enough school leaders with enough capacity to build high functioning instructional teams.
There is a common base of knowledge about teaching and learning for good professional practice that gets results for students. Large segments of it are missing in action from the supply chain that trains and develops our teacher workforce. This is eminently fixable, but only if we redefine the problem and radically refocus our resources to fix it.