Keeping the teacher corps strong and well qualified will cost up to $5 billion annually, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future says in its 1996 and 1997 reports, but it will pay off handsomely. Among its points:
Money spent on supporting and educating teachers pays off in student learning. Teachers who know a lot about teaching and learning, and who work in environments that allow them to know students well, are the critical elements of successful learning, a number of recent studies suggest. An analysis of 900 Texas districts by Ronald Ferguson found that student gains in math and reading were influenced more by better teachers than by any other factor. Small schools and lower class sizes in elementary school also contributed significantly-and when those three factors combined, they made more difference than even the students’ backgrounds. Another study in Alabama, by Ferguson and Helen Ladd, bore similar results; and so did a review by R. Greenwald, L. V. Hedges, and R.D. Laine of 60 studies on the effect of school resources on student achievement.
Aspiring teachers who have the time to master academic areas as they learn teaching skills will perform better on the job. Four years of college that ends with a teaching degree gives short shrift to both practice teaching and to subject-area understanding, studies show. But programs that combine college with a fifth year of teacher education, or one- to two-year graduate programs for college graduates or mid-career recruits, turn out a more diverse group of teachers who are often as confident and effective as their senior colleagues. Just as important, they are much more likely to stay in teaching after the first few years-so investment in their education pays off.
New teachers do better with mentor support. To get through the tough first years without leaving in dismay, beginning teachers need ongoing support from a skilled mentor in their academic field. If they have it, attrition rates drop dramatically (often to about 5 percent, even in cities). If they don’t, upwards of 30 percent of new teachers will be gone after three years.
Teachers express more satisfaction in restructured schools. When schools give them more time to work and learn together, and when teaching teams can work with groups of students over more extended periods of time, teachers report not only better student performance but better working conditions, better relationships with principals, and more career satisfaction, according to a 1993 Harris survey for the Ford Foundation.
For the two reports What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future (1996) and Doing What Matters Most: Investing in Quality Teaching (1997), both by Linda Darling-Hammond, call the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future at (888) 492-1241 (888) 492-1241 or visit www.tc.columbia.edu/~teachcomm