Administrators STRENGTHEN TEACHER QUALITY
Improving the Quality of Teachers in the Classroom
Remarks by Carolyn Bacon Dickson

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We have 3 serious drop out problems in education:

  1. High school drop out rate: one million students each year

  2. College drop out rate: Only 1/5 of 9th graders get a college degree in 6 years.

  3. Teacher drop out rate: After 3 years, 1/3 of new teachers leave the field; after 5 years, almost half of those new teachers have left. In inner city schools, 1/2 of the teachers quit within 3 years. The real problem is not too few teachers entering the profession, it is too many leaving.

The solution to all 3 drop out problems is improving the teacher corps.

When I consider the problems of education I am reminded of what Winston Churchill said, 'You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else first."

In education we have tried everything--more buildings, smaller classes, higher pay. We even tried lowering standards, but we have not kept our eye on the main goal: improving the teacher corps.

I don't want to offend anyone by my remarks, but this problem is so serious I am willing to risk offending everyone if it would help the cause. Until we improve the teacher corps in America, we cannot improve student performance. Nor can we expect improvements in the drop out rates. We try to raise the bar for student success before we raise the bar for teacher performance. And it doesn't work.

Simply stated, the quality of education depends on the quality of teachers in the classroom. Today that quality is dismal:

(Slide) Sixty-nine percent of US middle school students are taught mathematics by teachers with no certification in math. In high school, 67% of students are taught physics by teachers with no major or certification in physics.

Our foundation has a program to improve the quality of classroom teachers in middle and high schools in Texas.

The program is called the Advanced Placement Incentive Program. Like so many donors, we wanted to help our public schools but didn't know how to get in the game. Our approach is the College Board's Advanced Placement program. This excellent program prepares students for college level work and is offered in 60% of our nation's high schools. We added financial incentives for teachers and students tied to academic results. Incentives work to accelerate the growth of Advanced Placement, especially among minorities. And I will show you the data.

The AP incentive program succeeds because of 3 fundamental concepts:

  1. High standards of AP which is built on a strong curriculum, rigorous national exams and measurable results.

  2. Emphasis on training classroom teachers

  3. Financial incentives for teachers and students. Incentives are key to the success of our program. They provide extra pay for extra work and are paid by private donors.

We pay AP teachers an annual stipend. We pay for their training and typically they earn $100 for every passing score their students make on AP exams. A teacher making an average salary of $40,000 may receive $4000 in AP incentives--a 10% salary increase. More important it indicates to the teachers that they are professionally very capable.

The quality and availability of the College Board training is absolutely essential to the success of the program. We require teachers to attend College Board summer institutes for at least 3 years. Most go 5 years. The training emphasizes content and the verbal and cognitive skills needed to teach the content.

We added the concept of Lead teachers. They provide the academic leadership for the program in a district. They teach at least one AP course. They mentor and support the teachers in their district who are training to become very good AP teachers. We pay Lead teachers a $10,000 annual salary supplement. They are worth every dollar.

Our academic focus is AP math, English, the sciences and the arts. We make five-year commitments to be sure the teachers are well trained and the program has time to take hold in a school.

I want to show you data for 10 high schools in Dallas. Dallas is the 12th largest school district in the country with 160,000 students. It has a 93% minority enrollment and 77% of the students are from poor families. Yet these students have an outstanding AP record.

(Slide) The number of AP exams taken has increased 9.4 times in 10 years.

(Slide) The number of passing scores in math, science and English has increased 7.6 times, from 157 the year before the program began to almost 1200 in 2005. Behind every one of the passing scores is an outstanding AP teacher.

(Slide) The number of African American and Hispanic students passing AP exams has increased from 29 to 517--over 17 times in 10 years. And these are in the difficult subjects.

(Slide) When measured by 1000 juniors and seniors, the minority students in Dallas pass AP exams at a rate nearly 3 times that of all other minority students in the US. While it's wonderful for Dallas students, this data shows how much academic potential we waste in this country because we are not focused on training the teacher corps.

(Slide) The big payoff for AP students in the high rate of graduation from college. This chart shows the 6-year graduation rates from Texas public universities by ethnic group and based on whether or not they passed an AP exam in the core academic subjects. Anglo's at 72% compared to Hispanics with a 62% graduation rate and 60% for African Americans. This data which controls for students' demographics, prior achievement and the demographics of their high schools shows the relationship between AP and college graduation, and it shows that AP is helping to close the gap on college graduation rates.

Based on results, we created a non-profit organization that manages the program statewide. This has allowed up to scale up quickly, while maintaining quality. Today the AP incentive program is in 69 districts in Texas, training 800 AP teachers in 198 high schools. It's having an impact on our public schools because of 52 generous donors who have committed to support the program in their local schools for at least five years. They not only share the financial burden with the schools, but also let the schools know that the local community is supportive of its AP program.

The next step was to build on the success of AP by training pre-AP teachers for grades 6-11 in a program we call "Laying the Foundation." This program provides teacher guides, benchmarks, and training that teachers need to begin preparing students in the 6th grade to master AP courses in grades 11 and 12. We are training 7000 pre-AP teachers in Texas this year. When fully deployed, pre-AP will provide an enormous boost for all students by giving them an early start and putting a focus on the important goals of graduating both from high school and from college.

To sum up, the AP incentive program is improving the teacher corps in middle and high schools through high quality, sustained training, followed by rewards based on the academic results of their students. Our lessons learned as a donor are:

  1. Incentives work in education. They are the force propelling us toward our education goals. Or, as the Teaching Commission said recently, "A system that does not reward excellence is unlikely to inspire it."

  2. Incentives help recruit and retain outstanding teachers.

  3. Excellent teacher training is critical to student learning.

  4. AP has no geographical bias, no gender bias and no ethnic bias.

  5. AP incentive programs can be replicated in any school district. And they are scalable. You can start in just one school or with an entire district.

  6. Donors react to reliable data and the College Board provides accurate data.

Our country invests very little capital in teachers once they enter the classroom. Training outstanding teachers and rewarding them for performance is a capital investment that continues to pay huge benefits every year that teacher is in the classroom.

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Last Modified: 05/05/2006