Construction Plan for Better Teachers: Deregulation

Published January 1, 2004

To Build a Better Teacher: The Emergence of a Competitive Education Industry
Robert Gray Holland
(Praeger Paperback, 2004; 168 pages, $24, ISBN: 0897898869)

Getting better teachers is one of Diane Ravitch’s recommendations for combatting The Language Police, and it’s a goal few would disagree with, regardless of their views on multiculturalism or political correctness.

However, when it comes to developing a construction plan to build those better teachers, there’s much more disagreement, as Bob Holland explains in his informative new book, To Build a Better Teacher: The Emergence of a Competitive Education Industry.

In calm and measured prose illuminated throughout by comments from current teachers, Holland lays out the case for a revolution in education: Changing the way teachers are trained, hired, evaluated, and rewarded. The two key components of his plan are the deregulation of teacher hiring and the use of a value-added approach to identify and reward teachers who are better than others at consistently raising student achievement.

Currently, most teachers are “built” at college schools of education, where they complete a state-approved program of pedagogical training that leads to a degree and qualification as a state-certified teacher. The call for better teachers has led proponents of this training/certification process to propose even tighter regulation of teacher entry by having state schools of education accredited by a single national agency. A National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) also has been formed to certify “master” teachers.

However, as Holland points out, there’s no compelling evidence that the onerous certification process for new teachers actually produces “better” teachers, or that NBPTS-certified teachers are any better at raising student achievement than those without such certification.

It’s not that the contribution of good teachers cannot be measured. Thanks to pioneering work on value-added assessment by William Sanders at the University of Tennessee, the education industry now has a means of measuring how effective individual teachers are in raising the achievement levels of different students over time. The value-added approach can show whether a teacher is raising achievement for all students, for just some students, or for no students. Sanders has shown that good teachers raise student achievement substantially regardless of demographic factors.

“Of all the factors we study–class size, ethnicity, location, poverty–they all pale to triviality in the face of teacher effectiveness,” said Sanders.

Holland proposes using Sanders’ value-added approach to determine the relative effectiveness of different teachers and to reward better teachers with higher salaries. The value-added approach also would identify teachers in need of specific training and those who should be pursuing other careers.

In combination with implementing the value-added tool, Holland also proposes deregulating teacher hiring, allowing school principals to hire the applicants with the most intellectual promise rather than having to screen applicants largely on the basis of the education courses they took in college.

Some small steps already have been taken towards deregulation. For example, in 1984 New Jersey reduced the number of education courses required for certification and provided on-the-job training in applied teaching. There also are alternate certification programs, such as Teach for America and Troops to Teachers.

To better understand why fundamental change is needed to the construction, evaluation, and reward system for teachers in America, To Build a Better Teacher is the book to read.

Holland is an award-winning journalist and former op-ed page editor with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He is now a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia and a contributing editor to School Reform News.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].