Teacher Voice Matters

Guest author Peggy Brookins, is President & CEO, of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards @NBPTS @pbrookins44

Teacher voices are seldom heard in the policy space. The new report from the Center on Education Policy's, Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices, surveying 3,000 public school teachers from across the country echoes this sentiment. The report addresses the teaching profession, standards and assessments, testing time, and teacher evaluation, paying attention to both internal and external climate affecting teachers.

When teachers were asked in the survey about their individual school, the responses to the survey were generally positive. Teachers said they liked being at their school and 64% described themselves and their colleagues as a satisfied group. Nearly 75% of teachers reported engaging in useful collaboration with their colleagues.

Ninety-six percent of surveyed teachers said that they have taken on leadership or student support activities above and beyond their classroom roles. Only about a quarter of those teachers are compensated for this work. Though, if teachers take on a role coaching a sport, the numbers were dramatically different; 79% of coaches received compensation.

External Pressures and Policies
Teachers' views on external pressures and policies, however, were not so positive. Almost half of teachers said state or district policies get in the way of teaching; one-third said constantly changing demands placed on students and teachers are a great challenge. And, there is a perception that teacher voices are not included; 53% of teachers agreed that their voices aren't heard in the school building; and even fewer believe their voices are factored into decision-making process at the district (19%), state (2%), and national (1%) levels.

As a discussant for this report at the August AERA/IEL Education Policy Forum event, I argued that these problems have persisted for years, but the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides an opportunity to raise the teacher voice on their foremost area of expertise: teaching and learning. The language of the law, as well as statements policymakers have made indicate an intention to draw on teacher expertise in policy and programmatic decision-making.

Many states have already created stakeholder committees to design state plans required under ESSA. As these committees wrestle with issues of school accountability and statewide testing, it is critical that teachers are represented on these committees. Teachers have the expertise and states must involve them in genuine and meaningful ways. If we are to achieve ESSA's promise, this is an imperative.

When it comes to decisions on how to spend ESSA's teacher quality funds, local districts will have a particularly significant role to play since approximately 95% of teacher quality funds flow to districts. We need accomplished teachers - those who are informed around policy - to be at the table to help determine the most effective uses of funds.

Important questions must be addressed:
  • Can funds be used in creative ways to give teachers more time to plan and collaborate?
  • Can funds be used to institute quality professional learning communities or professional development schools to encourage cohorts of teachers to go through the National Board Certification process together, thereby forming a common language changing a school's culture, and climate?

My organization, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, has developed recommendations for how ESSA funds can be used to support beginning teachers, to strengthen professional learning and growth systems, and to promote teacher leadership.

ESSA Funds to Elevate the Profession
Based on personal experience over many years, I believe that National Board Certification transforms teaching and elevates the teaching profession in profound ways. ESSA presents districts with an opportunity to strategically support improving the quality of the teaching workforce including National Board Certification. Districts should use the flexibility they have to invest in activities grounded in a coherent professional continuum - including novice teacher support through residency and induction programs, professional learning and growth systems that lead to board certification, and teacher leadership opportunities that spread the expertise of accomplished teachers.

By defining accomplished teaching and certifying accomplished teachers, Board certification is the teacher-led measure to systematically build the quality of the teaching workforce. Board certification serves as a platform for teachers to grow and become leaders. The process helps establish the type of leaders whose voice should be heard at all levels decision-making.

Board-certified teachers are particularly suited to make their voices heard now because they have already demonstrated their teaching meets the profession's highest standards. They are instructional experts who can make recommendations on how teacher quality funds can be spent so that Board certification becomes the norm.

If it's implemented with integrity, ESSA will mark a significant shift in education policy. Instead of policymakers developing top-down programs and then seeking buy-in from teachers, ESSA must engage teachers-the experts on teaching and learning--from the outset to figure out how to invest federal, state, and local funds in ways that will advance student achievement.

I am confident that if state and district leaders implement ESSA with a recognition that teachers are the experts on teaching and learning, future survey results will look vastly different.

The AERA/IEL Education Policy Forum, launched in 1983, is a monthly luncheon series featuring renowned scholars and practitioners focused on salient issues in education policy. To learn more, visit http://iel.org/aera-iel-educational-policy-forums. To get on the mailing list for the Washington DC-based series, please email epfp@iel.org.