As the state legislature begins a new session and Gov. Pat McCrory begins the work of governing, North Carolina is at a critical juncture. The docket is already filled with an ambitious agenda, but one policy domain stands out for its outsized impact and opportunity: public education.
North Carolina has historically been a leader in education reform – from starting one of the first public universities in the country in 1795 to creating a national model for early childhood education in the latter part of the 20th century. Over the past century, our state has distinguished itself for its emphasis on the combined and aligned pursuits of equity, access and accountability for student learning.
Today, as we aspire to provide all North Carolina students with a world-class education, it is clear that teachers matter. Citing evidence that “shows teachers matter more to student learning than anything else inside a school,” the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $45 million in the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project.
The goal of MET is to help develop fair and useful measures of teacher effectiveness to ensure that all students have access to high quality instruction. Working with a handful of school districts across the country, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg, MET connects independent education researchers with superintendents, principals, teachers and teacher unions to develop objective and reliable measures of effective teaching that go well beyond how students do on traditional assessments. This includes measuring student growth over time and regular classroom observations.
One of the partners of the Gates Foundation and a leading national expert in teacher effectiveness is Chapel Hill-based Public Impact. Founded by the husband and wife team of Bryan and Emily Hassel, Public Impact has launched www.opportunityculture.org, whose mission is to help teachers move to a high paid, high-impact profession.
As they write, “research continues to confirm that today’s top 25 percent of teachers help students make well over a year of learning growth – or about three times as much growth as the bottom 25 percent of teachers produce. This high growth is essential to help students who start behind catch up, and to help students who are on track leap forward like their peers in the highest-achieving nations. With just today’s ‘good growth,’ students cannot catch up or leap ahead. Students need excellent teachers consistently, year after year.”
To bring these national best practices to our state and make sure the importance of teacher effectiveness is not lost in today’s state policy debate, Public Impact has joined Teach for America, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, the Knowledge is Power Program, New Leaders for New Schools, Project Lift, and other education leaders in North Carolina to partner with national education reform organization 50CAN to create CarolinaCAN: The North Carolina Campaign for Achievement Now. (Christopher serves as the organization’s acting chair).
With a call to make 2013 the “Year of the Teacher,” CarolinaCAN’s participating coalition members offer three recommendations to increase the chance for an excellent teacher in every North Carolina classroom: improving teacher evaluations, reforming teacher tenure and rewarding effective teachers.
Since 2008, North Carolina has been a pioneer in teacher evaluation reform. This includes incorporating student growth measures (i.e. measuring whether students demonstrate significant learning gains over the course of the school year) as a major part of teacher evaluation. The hope is that in addition to this, all North Carolina teachers are evaluated annually with regular and meaningful feedback including classroom observations.
Based on rigorous, regular, multifaceted evaluations (which should also provide feedback to teachers to help improve areas of weakness), it is recommended that a teacher’s tenure and overall compensation is then tied to proven effectiveness. Simply, our kids can’t afford not having a great teacher in every classroom.
But as accountability goes up, so should our investment in the teachers and school leaders themselves. Recently, funding has been slashed for teacher and principal professional development. Yet there are great models for how to do this well in a practical, job-embedded way such as Teach for America and New Leaders for New Schools. We should be looking for ways to build on these best practices as we train and support all teachers in their path to becoming exceptional professionals in their field.
Furthermore, as we aspire to ensure that all of North Carolina’s 95,000 teachers are highly effective, we must have a strong pipeline of talent into the teaching profession who feel strongly supported and well compensated.
Our future depends on great teachers. Let’s hope our education policies and investments match this grand challenge – and that our legislature seizes this opportunity to lead the way during this critical time.
Christopher Gergen is founder of Bull City Forward & Queen City Forward and a fellow with Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University. Stephen Martin is a director at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership and blogs at www.messyquest.com. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter through @cgergen.