An educational earthquake aimed at improving the effectiveness of teachers is rumbling across the nation.
So far, the quake is only beginning to affect Wisconsin. But the tremors of change are already being felt here, and more are coming.
In the process, a new world of teaching is being built.
Nationwide, the federal government and giant philanthropies such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into underwriting work in dozens of states and cities on better ways to select teachers, monitor their work and pay them.
President Barack Obama has taken on teachers unions – traditionally partisan allies – over teacher improvement issues, while many Republicans, including Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker, say they support reform in teachers’ pay.
National leaders of teachers unions, long opposed to change, are willing to talk about once-taboo subjects such as making it easier to get weak teachers out of classrooms.
Multiple factors have ushered in this new era. First, it is now widely understood that not only are teachers the most important school-related factor in student learning, but that teacher effectiveness varies drastically. Second, the recession – and the resulting stimulus package – gave Obama a chance to launch large programs focused on increasing teacher effectiveness. Third, data about students and teachers has improved greatly, providing better tools for figuring out the success of many teachers on an individual basis.