How the Blueprint for Reform Empowers Educators
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Addressing Teachers' Concerns
This section addresses questions that Secretary Duncan has heard frequently when talking with teachers about education reform.
Why does the government seem to blame teachers for problems schools face?
That would be crazy, like blaming doctors for a flu epidemic. President Obama understands that most teachers are doing a very good job and that all of the problems in education can't be put on the backs of teachers. Instead of blaming teachers, he and Secretary Duncan call for teachers and school leaders to collaborate with one another to raise achievement so that all students are college- and career-ready. If teachers aren't performing up to that level, they should get the support they need and the opportunity to improve.
How is the proposed plan for testing different from what we have had?
Assessment is important because educators use the data to evaluate student learning and determine what to focus on to help each student. Under the Blueprint, student achievement levels should NOT be the sole measure of performance. Instead, the Blueprint focuses not on one point in time but on growth and progress over time. Schools with low achievement shouldn't be singled out for the most dramatic interventions unless they persistently remain in the bottom 5 percent of all schools and show no growth.
Since teachers can't control the environments from which their students come, isn't it unfair to hold all teachers to the same standards for student achievement?
No two students are alike, and some come to school with baggage that makes them harder to teach than others. The Blueprint recognizes this by suggesting state school systems focus on the whole child and reward growth, not just on arbitrary achievement levels. The Blueprint also helps teachers to reach difficult students by providing resources to help address comprehensive approaches to meeting students' needs.
Why does the plan ask schools to compete for federal dollars?
Eighty percent of federal dollars for K-12 schools will come through the same funding sources as beforestraight to states and districts without any competition. The Blueprint includes some new competitive programs to offer incentives for school districts and states to develop strategies and plans to improve their students' achievement. These programs will direct resources based not only on the quality of the proposed plan but also on the needs of the students who will be served.
Why should teacher pay be determined by test scores?
Test scores are not the sole indicator of a teacher's performance, but, if used correctly, they should indicate how well students are learning.
If done right, it makes some sense that growth in student achievement should be one part of a teacher's evaluation. A comprehensive teacher evaluation system also considers classroom observations, peer reviews, professional development, and other contributions that the teacher makes to the school.
How will the Blueprint support and change my teaching?
Highly effective teachers could be rewarded with more recognition, higher pay, and leadership opportunities, including mentoring others, and incentives, such as more money. Some highly effective teachers will be offered additional compensation for teaching in high-need schools. Effective teachers should participate in professional development that builds on their current skills and improves their practice to make them more effective. Struggling teachers could be given more intensive training and mentoring and be observed more frequently in efforts to improve their practice. If their performance does not improve, they may be counseled to consider taking on a different role at the school or choosing another profession.
All teachers will use data to assess students' progress and to redirect their teaching. With the new accountability system's emphasis on growth, teachers will feel less pressure for all students to perform at the same level. Since schools won't be labeled as "failing" based solely on the results of one test on one day, teachers won't feel the need to focus only on students just below the proficiency bar. Instead of mandating a single set of interventions for every school, the Blueprint gives most schools the flexibility to determine the right strategies to help them improve. Teachers will be able to work with school leaders to help determine the changes that will best meet students' needs. Teachers will also be given more time to meet with teams in their schools to evaluate data and make plans to address areas of concern as a community.
Why does the plan require that teachers be fired?
It doesn't. However, it does focus on dramatically reforming the schools whose students' test scores consistently fall in the bottom 5 percentschools where performance is extremely low and not improving. For these chronically underperforming schools, the plan offers districts choices from an array of models. Some of the models would involve changes in the staffing of the school, others would keep the teachers in place and focus on specific strategies like expanded learning time. Teachers can and should be involved in choosing a turnaround model for their school.
Most of the plan is about supporting teachers and leaders in our schools, recognizing and rewarding those who are doing a great job. The budget provides a $350 million increase in funding for programs that support teachers and leaders, more than has ever been requested.
What about principals? What part do they play in the president's plan for reform?
The plan recognizes the need for school leaders who understand what resources and support systems teachers need to succeed. States are encouraged to invest in principal development, enhancing their training and evaluations, and restructuring their jobs so that they are free to work with teachers collaboratively and make authentic assessments. To make this happen, we are proposing to increase fivefold the funding for programs that prepare effective teachers and other school leaders to be effective principals.
Does the Blueprint for Reform favor charter schools? Under the new plan, do charter schools receive preferential funding?
The Blueprint does not favor one form of public school over another. As Secretary Duncan says, he is for whatever works well for students. Of the $28 billion the president has proposed for the 2011 budget, less than 2 percent is set aside specifically for charter and other autonomous public schools.
Do the Obama administration's competitions favor urban schools over rural populations?
No. One of the strengths of the plan is that it focuses on need, which we know exists in both rural and urban areas. For this reason, the Blueprint offers rural and other high-need communities a competitive priority in competitions. Furthermore, the Blueprint's emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) has the potential to improve the technology that rural schools can access, offering students a broader range of courses.
What is there in the plan for rural schools?
In addition to maintaining a dedicated funding stream for rural schools, much in the Blueprint addresses rural needs, including support for rural districts that use distance education to provide students with access to a more complete education. It also removes barriers that make it difficult for rural schools to recruit and keep the best teachers. And it increases funding, cuts the red tape necessary to get it, and allows local communities greater spending flexibility.
Under this plan, what are families and communities asked to do to contribute to their children's success?
Families and communities play absolutely critical roles in student success. Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan have listened to parents telling their stories and relaying their concerns about the current crisis in education. The Blueprint doubles the federal funding required to be set aside for family engagement and encourages school systems to come up with innovative and effective approaches, through programs such as Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods, for school systems to tap into these resources. Based on feedback we received on the Blueprint, the plan proposes to double funding for parent engagementfrom 1 to 2 percent of Title I dollarsor a total of $270 million. At the same time, states will be allowed to reserve an additional 1 percent of Title I dollars for grant programs that support, incentivize, and help expand districts' evidence-based parental involvement practices.