Sunday, October 4, 2009

Teaching quality: distribution or cultivation?

For EdWeek, Stephen Sawchuk opened a recent article saying this:

Lawmakers and teacher spokesmen had a spirited exchange here this week on the equitable distribution of effective teachers, illuminating the contours of a debate that will likely continue as Congress revisits the issue.

* * *

Improving the distribution of effective teachers to schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students should be a top federal priority, lawmakers agreed.

There's something jarring about that word "distribution."

First, teachers are not commodities. They are not tools or machines or chattels. They are free men and women who can choose whether to stay in their current jobs or seek work in another district or switch careers or retire. They are not things that can be redistributed.

Second, effective teaching is not a limited resource. It's a capacity that expands with better pre-service preparation, more sustained professional development, more effective collegial collaboration, and more focused instructional leadership. The world's top-performing systems focus on quality instruction, and they're beating us soundly in the global competition. Their achievement is higher, and their gaps are smaller. Their strategy works.

The main challenge is not distributing a limited supply of good teaching more fairly.

The main challenge is expanding the supply of good teaching quickly and systematically, with the most intensive efforts applied to the schools and students that currently have the weakest results.

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