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Experts Differ on Route to Getting Talented Teachers to Most Challenged Schools

WASHINGTON — In the ongoing struggle to boost student achievement, educational leaders should place a bigger emphasis on recruitment of talented teachers into the nation’s most challenged schools — and a “bar exam” for teachers would be a big help.

So argued a scholar on educational leadership Thursday at the Center for American Progress for the release of a paper titled Getting the Best People into the Toughest Jobs.

“Talent matters,” said Allan Odden, the paper’s author and director of Strategic Management of Human Capital, or SMHC, a project of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, of which Odden is co-director.

While the assertion that talent matters may seem like a straightforward proposition, Odden said talent hasn’t always ranked at the top of the nation’s education reform agenda in recent decades.

Odden — who is also professor emeritus of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — also argued for the need to “calibrate policy” and to get more people in America’s education establishment to see recruitment of talented teachers as “important stuff.”

To recruit the best talent and manage the talent strategically, Odden said, metrics are needed to guide the management and to make important decisions about licensure, tenure, promotion, pay, dismissal and other personnel decisions.

Odden argues those and other points further in his new paper, released Thursday through the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy and research organization. The paper adds to the growing amount of calls to tie evaluations of teacher performance to student achievement.

Among other things, it calls for a “bar exam” that should be used to “assess both instructional expertise and impact on student learning.” The exam would be required for the full licensure of all teachers “at some point after three to five years of teaching,” the paper states.

While the paper emphasizes the need to staff the most challenged schools with “smart and capable” teachers, other panelists who joined Odden at Thursday’s session stressed the need to look at more than academic giftedness.

“I don’t think ‘smart’ is enough,” said Bill Raabe, director of the Center for Great Public Schools at the National Education Association, who said he took exception to Odden’s bar exam recommendation.

“You have to be effective and be able to implement your ‘smart,’” Raable said.

Heather Harding, senior vice president for community partners at Teach for America, a national program that provides an alternative route into the teaching profession, voiced similar concerns as it relates to diversity.

“The SAT score is not going to get it if we want to increase diversity,” Hardin said, stressing the need to recruit not just those who are deemed as the “best and brightest,” but members of diverse groups who are reflective of America’s student population.

Effective management and retention of talented teachers involves recognizing their talent and placing them where they have a love and joy, Harding said.

“If we recognize their talents and identify what they’re interested in, you can keep them,” Harding said of reducing turnover, cited during the discussion as one of the most chronic problems in education.

Cami Anderson, superintendent of Newark Public Schools, said a certain amount of turnover is not only to be expected, but necessary.

“Some people are not effective, and some people are not good,” Anderson said.

But eventually, Anderson said, “you want to get to a place where the development systems are so effective that people are raising their game to higher levels.”

Much of Thursday’s discussion focused on the merits of alternative teacher preparation programs, namely, Teach for America, or TFA, and The New Teacher Project, or TNTP.

Odden described TFA and TNTP as “two beacons of hope” in what he described as the “talent agenda” at the close of the 20th century.

In his paper, Odden credits the programs with shaking up the education reform scene by figuring out how to find and place talent into urban and poor rural classrooms, despite widespread opposition to their programs and policies.

While Odden gave accolades to TFA and TNT, Raabe cautioned against investing too much stock in the route a teacher took into the classroom.

“I don’t care what the preparation program is,” Raabe said. The paramount concern, he said, is whether the people entering the teaching profession are prepared to work with the children they will face.

“And what system do we have to ensure that?” Raabe said. “How are we meeting the needs of kids, and is the system meeting the needs of kids?”

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