Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who Says Democratic Governors Have A Monopoly on Education Policy?

In January 2006 Alabama Governor Bob Riley initiated one of the more thoughtful gubernatorial commissions focused on teacher quality in recent years. And the commission didn't produce a document to sit on a shelf or fatten up a web site, but its work is on-going and is having impact.

In just three years, the Governor's Commission on Quality Teaching -- led by former National Teacher of the Year Dr. Betsy Rogers -- has already impacted public policy in the Heart of Dixie. Its initial recommendations, released in November 2006, were central in leading to the creation of a statewide teacher mentor program and the development of new standards for the teaching profession.

The commission's latest recommendations focus on creating a professional pathway for teachers in addition to maintaining support for the Alabama Teacher Mentoring Program, continuing a biannual Teaching and Learning Conditions Survey, and reforming teacher preparation.

Read the Commission's complete report here.

1. Professional Pathways for Alabama Teachers - The Commission recommends that two systems be selected as “demonstration sites” to begin implementation of the Professional Pathways system. The Commission would raise $75,000 from private sources for a planning grant to work on development with the two systems beginning in the summer of 2009.

2. Improve the Quality of Teacher Preparation - This set of recommendations seeks to structure meaningful partnerships between Colleges of Education and P-12 schools and districts in order to improve both the academic and clinical preparation of prospective teachers. This includes a strong focus on Alabama-specific initiatives, such as the Alabama Reading Initiative and the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI). They also aim to increase the accountability of teacher preparation institutions for the quality of their graduates.

3. Consolidate and Expand Teacher Recruitment Efforts - These recommendations include a centralized and user-friendly teacher recruitment website, student-produced ads to highlight the opportunities provided by the teaching profession, and a pilot seminar course in teaching for high school students.

4. Improving and Expanding Alternative Certification - These recommendations seek to create new routes that encourage the best and the brightest to enter the teaching profession. They include (a) a partnership with Teach for America to bring talented young people from across the country to teach in high-needs areas in Alabama, (b) improving the quality of our current Alternative Baccalaureate Certification, and (c) creation of an adjunct certification to allow individuals with recognized expertise and experience in high needs disciplines to work part time in public schools.

5. Maintain and expand the Alabama Teacher Mentoring Program - The Commission recommends the continued funding of Alabama’s highly-successful mentoring program for first-year teachers and the addition of a low-cost program for second-year teachers that uses small groups to continue their training and enhance small learning communities in schools..

6. Adopt a new definition for professional development - The Commission recommends that the State Board of Education adopt the National Staff Development Council’s definition of professional development to clarify, enhance, and support the existing Professional Development Standards.

7. Continue the biennial administration of the Take 20 Teaching and Learning Conditions Survey - The Commission feels it is critical that we institutionalize the biennial administration of our teaching and learning conditions survey to all educators so that leaders can continually assess the state of their schools and plan for constant improvement. The Take 20 survey was recommended by the Commission in 2007 and first administered to all Alabama educators in 2008.

The idea of a professional pathway for teachers isn't a completely new idea. In 2001, under the leadership of then Governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, Iowa developed a teacher career ladder, a multi-tiered licensure system, as reported by Education Week. But due to funding constraints, this initiative was never fully implemented. The only parts that were enacted were a small pay hike and a teacher mentoring program.

But this idea is the wave of the future. Fewer and fewer young people are going into teaching as a life-long career. And fewer are going into teaching because of the limited opportunities for advancement while staying in the classroom. Opportunities to advance in the profession and be compensated for teaching excellence and leadership roles are needed. Right now, given the typical steps and lanes pay structure, the only way to make this happen is to move into educational administration or to leave public education entirely.

Although Democrats are often framed to be more pro-education than Republicans, and in reality often are, Alabama's Riley is a notable exception. His leadership has led to some real steps forward in public education in Alabama.

The Commission's efforts were recently featured in Education Week's Teacher Beat blog, in a post authored by Vaishali Honawar as well.

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