A coalition of 40 education groups — including some strange bedfellows — is starting a national campaign aimed at “modernizing and elevating” the teaching profession.
The groups, organized by the left-leaning Center for American Progress under the banner TeachStrong, want to make the status of teachers an issue in the 2016 presidential race and in policy discussions on the state and local levels.
“We feel like this is the perfect time to bring people together who are hungry to turn the page on some of the contentious fights around testing and accountability,” said Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress. “What we need now is to focus on high-quality instruction, and there’s a lot of agreement that the way to do that is to get strong teachers in every classroom. We think this should be the next big reform in education.”
The coalition, which the center is announcing Tuesday, includes Teach for America and the two major teachers unions, which have criticized that group and other alternative teacher certification programs for inadequate training.
The coalition also includes the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the National Council on Teacher Quality, which has questioned the quality of many of the 1,400 teacher preparation programs run by colleges.
After much discussion, the coalition members settled on nine principles, which call for careful recruitment, better training and higher standards for people who want to become teachers. The coalition also called for more support, better pay and high-quality professional training once teachers are in the classroom.
The principles call for “significantly more time” and tools for teachers to plan and collaborate during the school day, and the creation of career ladders so that experienced educators do not have to leave the classroom to advance their careers but can continue to teach while assuming greater responsibilities.
The campaign says that tenure, a politically charged issue, should be maintained but only as “a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment.”
And it calls for greater support for novice teachers through induction or residency programs.
Elisa Villaneuva Beard, chief executive officer of Teach For America, said that doesn’t mean her organization will make changes to its five-week teacher training program, which unions have criticized as being insufficient.
“We do great, very rigorous pre-training work,” Beard said.
Beard said she wants to elevate teaching to make it an attractive profession. In recent years, Teach for America has had trouble recruiting enough newly minted college graduates to fill teaching slots.
“We believe the teaching profession needs to be modernized,” she said. “We want to be part of a group of people who are ready to come together around a really important issue.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said many of the principles of the campaign have been touted by teachers unions for years. In 2012, the federation proposed a rigorous professional exam for K-12 teachers that would serve the same function as the bar exam for lawyers and board certification for doctors.
“This is an important inflection point in terms of how policy should be moving to actually make teaching into a profession that people flock to,” Weingarten said.
For much of the past decade, teachers have been unfairly blamed when their students failed to make academic progress, she said.
“How moronic is it to think the way you’re going to have great teachers is to vilify people?” Weingarten said. “I think what’s happened is that finally some common sense is taking over. This is a fundamentally different way of looking at teachers, how we recruit, train and support them and give them the latitude and tools and conditions to do their jobs.”
Martin, of the Center for American Progress, said the campaign will include events in early presidential primary states and important swing states, as well as Twitter town halls, online events and social media outreach. The think tank expects to spend $1 million, she said.
So far, presidential candidates have spoken about early childhood education and access to college, with little attention paid to K-12 issues. Getting education on the front burner in a presidential contest has proven difficult.
In 2008, three foundations launched “Ed in ’08,” a $60 million attempt to make education a top priority and get presidential hopefuls to address three issues: agreeing on national education standards, giving students more time and help to learn, and providing effective teachers in every classroom. After spending $24 million, with little result, they pulled the plug.