Decades of research have established high expertise teaching as the most significant variable in student achievement. Unlike other high achieving countries such as Singapore, Finland, or Japan, however, our efforts have not focused on developing teacher knowledge and skill. Nor have we acknowledged the true scope, size, and complexity of this knowledge and skill base. The knowledge and skill for successful teaching, especially for disadvantaged children, is far beyond what our teacher workforce has access to or is held accountable for practicing.
In place of teacher knowledge and skill, we have focused on new structures and programs, and in most recent years on teacher evaluation and competitive marketplace choices for parents and students. Four decades of working on sustainable improvement of classroom teaching have taught me and my colleagues a great deal about how to make every school-as-workplace a reliable engine for the constant improvement of classroom teaching and learning. Added to that is what we have learned from insightful colleagues, writers, researchers, and school leaders about the importance of building public support, enlisting external partners, adjusting pacing to match the issues within the district. All of this adds up to a complex map for change, not a quick fix formula. Organizing a whole school system to maintain focus for multiple years on the improvement of classroom teaching and learning is a formidable challenge.
While it is true that improving student learning proceeds one school at a time, individual schools operate within a district, and without coherent district-wide press and support, few individual schools manage to sustain great results for long. Our collective call to action must be to focus relentlessly on the development of high expertise teaching in every classroom, and that means a district plan. We can do this while acknowledging the validity of other reform initiatives but making clear to everyone that high expertise teaching is the sine qua non – the foundation needed for any other improvement initiative to realize its promise. This is a policy shift that will take a committed steering group of national leaders to lead the way.by