Education organizers, civil rights advocates, researchers, educators, and policy experts gathered at Stanford to address the issues of teacher quality, in the context of a precipitous decline in resources in California's schools, especially those serving low-income and under-represented minority students.
On his way up to Stanford Thursday morning, John Rogers, director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA), was racing around the house at the crack of dawn trying to find his backpack. After a while, the noise of his fruitless search woke his wife, who asked what the problem was. "I can't find my backpack," Rogers told her. "Oh," she said, "you mean the one on your back?"
And that, said Rogers, is exactly what is happening in the debate on teacher quality these days: Policymakers are looking for solutions everywhere but in the most obvious place. The country is approaching the challenges in education from the "old logic of scarcity," focusing on what's missing, rather than tapping into and improving on existing resources.
Rogers shared this story with attendees from across California who gathered on March 24 at Stanford University to attend an IDEA-sponsored meeting on teacher quality titled "Teaching Quality Partnerships: An Education Exchange Exploring How Teachers and Communities Work Together to Improve Teaching and Learning."
This Education Exchange, co-sponsored with SCOPE, focused on ways to support greater access to quality teaching for low-income students and students of color. Speakers included Rogers, SCOPE Co-Director Linda Darling-Hammond, Cristina Uribe of the National Education Association, Alex Caputo-Pearl and Khallid Al-Alim of the Coalition for Educational Justice, Roberta Furger from People Improving Communities through Organizing, and Liz Guillen of Public Advocates.
The meeting took place a week after some 19,000 California teachers received pink slips. This, Rogers said, at a time when the state, right now, would need an additional 104,000 teachers to equal the student to teacher ratio that prevails across the nation.
In her presentation, Darling-Hammond also noted that many of the current strategies being proposed to improve teaching are, in fact, unlikely to do so. In a context of unequal and dwindling resources for schools, efforts to reduce training for teachers and then fire those who are ineffective will increase the costs of high attrition and low achievement while expanding the achievement gap. She observed that countries leading the world in education achievement invest more than the U.S. in training and supporting teachers but spend less on education overall.
“We have the resources to solve the problems of inequity and low achievement,” she said, “we just aren't using them well.” "You can't fire your way to Finland; you can't fire your way to excellence," she noted, referring to one of the world's leading countries in educational achievement. "We should be talking less about who's going to get fired, and talking more about who is going to get hired and how to prepare and retain them and ensure that they are good teachers."
Darling-Hammond’s talk focused on how to create policies that will produce a strong and equitably distributed teaching force, as well as how to create new approaches to teacher evaluation that will support improvement and personnel decisions when struggling teachers do not improve.
Throughout the day, in presentations and small-group conversations, participants focused on developing strategies for advancing equitable distribution of high quality teachers, based on two goals set by Rogers: addressing the short-term political task of stemming the "free-falling decline in educational opportunities and educational funding," and engaging in an intellectual activity to "leave behind the logic of scarcity and to imagine a system that ensures high quality teachers for all students."