Fortunately, the tides in education policy are finally pushing the system to realize the importance of its teachers. Test-based accountability is forcing districts to look past their myopic focus on enrollments, course offerings, and graduation rates and to take students’ academic performance more seriously. And because modern research has shown that teachers are the most important school-level factor influencing student achievement, many of today’s most prominent reform efforts focus on ensuring there is an effective, expert teacher in every classroom.
If schools and districts intend to fulfill the mandate to boost student achievement, they will need to adopt new strategies that place paramount emphasis on recruiting and retaining the best teachers. This shift in district strategy should then put individual teachers in a position to negotiate their salaries and working conditions based on the value their individual expertise brings to their schools.
But unfortunately, even in this era of increased accountability, many districts still operate as if teachers are commodities. Instead of recruiting strategically from the best teacher preparation programs in the country, they take the teachers that the nearest regional state school has to offer. Instead of putting together competitive and attractive salary and benefit packages and then working in the early spring to attract the best teachers to their schools, they wait until just before the start of the school year to frantically fill their open teaching slots. Instead of giving principals control over staffing so that they can build great faculty teams across multiple years, they move teachers around capriciously from one year to the next—and sometimes during the middle of the school year—and prioritize allocation targets over effectiveness. Instead of working with individual teachers to find roles where their particular areas of expertise are most relevant, districts often shift teachers at the last minute to grade levels or subject areas that are technically within their certification but realistically outside the domains where those teachers are most experienced, passionate, and able to excel.
Related: a focus on adult employment.