Strategic Deployment of Teacher Experience: Getting It Right for Students

News Flash! The interest of students and their opportunity to learn is not better or even well served by a strategy of constant and high demand of inexperienced teachers. Retention matters, not just to teachers but, most critically, to students.

Recent studies showing that teacher effectiveness continues to develop over time reinforce this imperative to do right by our students. First, in a working paper completed last year for the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, researchers at Duke University found that middle school teachers’ effect on student test scores as well as attendance rates improves over at least several years. A subsequent study out of Brown University found improvement in teacher effectiveness is indeed steepest in the early years in the classroom but continues for many more years, challenging the common perception that teacher quality is a fixed characteristic after just a couple of years of experience.

In practice, teachers have long known that professional learning never really ends. But as research catches up with this fact—and now that National Board certification has been shown to effectively identify accomplished teaching—it is painfully obvious that we need to connect the dots to better match educator experience with students’ needs.

Findings such as those in the recent studies also illuminate the need for nuance in the contemporary policy question of teacher assessment. But most compelling is the studies’ implications for students: How do we deploy teacher expertise to accomplish the greatest benefits to student learning, now and in the future? It’s a human resource management challenge—whose resolution must be governed first by students’ needs.

Why wouldn’t we find a way to deploy experienced teachers strategically? To state the obvious: It’s complicated. The answer has long eluded us, and on a national scope at least, we continue to struggle with it. Its narrative involves a complex set of characters, interwoven plot elements, and multiple coauthors.

The key players include teachers at every point in the career spectrum along with principals, superintendents, school boards, and educator preparation programs. The variables to negotiate include assessment and evaluation systems, induction and mentoring programs, performance incentives, union contracts, decision-making authority, partnership agreements, and more.

Still, when these diverse players with sometimes-conflicting interests agree to prioritize a shared goal, it absolutely can be achieved. Our collective will to get it right for students is what will carry the day.

Bringing together representatives from the unions, school leader groups, universities, and more, AACTE’s Educator Workforce Advisory Task Force is looking at the novice/induction piece of this puzzle of how best to match student learning needs with the available workforce. Following its initial meetings to gather perspectives from researchers and from one another, the group’s next step will be framing possible solutions, including identifying roles of the organizations around the table in enacting the solutions.

This task force is charged with developing a collaborative initiative to improve novice-teacher retention, particularly in hard-to-staff schools. Not only do most districts still place new teachers in the jobs that no one else wants, but many new teachers receive no induction support to help them work through challenges. Accomplished teachers have little incentive to help, leaving both new teachers and their students at a disadvantage.

The only way we can fix this is together. Teacher educators have to engage in the conversation around workforce development and management, as it both affects and is affected by their partnerships with schools. We can’t afford not to join in the work.

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE