Invest in Our Most Effective Teachers

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What's the single best idea to jumpstart job creation?

Americans are currently engaging in a spirited debate over how to improve our schools. I believe this national conversation will lead to solutions to the problems plaguing US education. We can accept nothing less. If we don't teach our children critical skills, how can we expect them to create and land jobs in the twenty-first century and beyond?

The Great Jobs Debate: An Atlantic/McKinsey Report

There is no single policy that, on its own, will fix all the problems in our public schools. But if I had to pick one step to improve student learning, it would be to invest in our teachers. Research shows the most important factor affecting student achievement is teacher quality. Parents know this. Moms and dads I know will do whatever it takes to get their kids into the best teacher's class.

Having a highly effective teacher several years in a row can literally change a child's life trajectory. Similarly, being stuck in ineffective classrooms for consecutive years can have devastating consequences. Knowing that, we have to rethink how we evaluate, train, reward, and retain our teachers.

First, we need to put in place fair and rigorous teacher evaluation systems. In most districts, teachers are evaluated maybe once a year, and they rarely get the feedback they need. Typically, there is no link between a teacher's evaluation and their success in helping children make strides. That doesn't make any sense. Teachers should be observed throughout the year, and great teachers should be asked to serve as role models and mentors. Similarly, educators who need help should get it.

When success is demonstrated, we should reward excellence. Currently, our teachers are paid in lockstep, receiving small salary increases for time served or other measures that are not necessarily linked to student success. Instead, great teachers should be better compensated and should be afforded new career and leadership opportunities. When ineffective teachers fail to improve, administrators must have the power to move them out of schools.

We also have to make sure we retain our most effective teachers. We can't allow them to continue to fall victim to policies that emphasize length of service over the quality of work. For example, we have to stop using seniority as the determining factor in teacher layoff decisions during tight economic times. Instead, we should make these difficult decisions based on job performance.

Ensuring students have effective teachers in front of them every day will go a long way toward putting our kids on a path to success in college and in their careers. Anything less shortchanges our kids and shortchanges our country.

Follow the debate here.

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Presented by

Michelle A. Rhee

Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst and former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools

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