"We know that from the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents—it is the teacher standing at the front of the classroom," says Arne Duncan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
Facilities, technology, work experiences, extra-curricular activities and many other school-based factors are important, but nothing surpasses or replaces the teacher — nothing. To be successful, any reform requires the commitment of the teachers who labor in our classrooms. Without quality teachers and teaching, we will be unable to provide a thorough and efficient learning system.
Value our teachers we must. If we are to attract and retain the best and brightest to the profession, we must find ways to make their salaries competitive and the work environment attractive. We must provide our teachers secure and competitive benefits and not depreciate their pay through unreasonable benefit costs. We must reduce the unnecessary paperwork we require of our teachers. To support our teachers, we must provide our students with necessary services that come with an adequate number of counselors, school nurses, and the other service providers; our students need to be ready to learn.
In other words, we must do more than say we value our teachers; we must take the actions and provide the resources that demonstrate we value them.
The Board also acknowledges that even the most effective teachers in the most state-of-the-art classrooms cannot accomplish their missions alone. Children are not ready to learn when they come to school hungry, neglected, abused, or concerned about their safety. Our districts and schools must focus on building a community of support for students through organizations such as Parent Teacher Organizations, Local School Improvement Councils, afterschool programs, business partnerships and non-profit wrap-around services. Schools can become a hub for students, but the families and communities must be strong spokes supporting the wheels of change, improvement and innovation for our children.
The recommendations in the Education Efficiency Audit pertaining to teachers are organized under four broad categories:
On its face, these categories seem benign, but Board members in attendance at the statewide public forums conducted by Vision Shared learned that the specific recommendations are not without concern among teachers and their employee representatives. Those concerns must be given great weight, but we still must consider the recommendations and — where they appear to have merit — strive for ways to implement them.
It is beyond the scope of this narrative to comment on each of the recommendations. That task is accomplished in Part II of this report. The Board will take the opportunity to address generally the themes and actions in each of the four broad categories.
For our students to be successful, we must recruit the best prepared and most effective teachers. The two main thrusts of the recommendations in this category are:
The Board agrees with most of these recommendations, in whole or in part. Qualified individuals should not be excluded from the profession simply because they did not pursue the traditional route to teaching. Although the Board notes that seniority of the applicants should be a factor when filling vacancies, it should not be the only factor in law or in practice. No one wants to return to the days when hiring and transfer decisions were purely political or nepotistic in nature, but when objective criteria clearly establish that one professional is more qualified than another, surely our students are best served by recognizing that fact.
In addition, the Board has significant leverage over the preparation of teachers through its accreditation of teacher preparation programs at our institutions of higher education. We are committed to using that authority, in conjunction with any needed legislative actions, to improve the preparation of our teacher force in West Virginia.
The new West Virginia Educator Evaluation System, adopted by the Legislature and implemented by Board policy, is just taking effect. We believe this new system is an improvement to our previous model and we will be following its effect closely. As data become available and the quality of the new evaluation system is established, the Board will revisit in more detail the Education Efficiency Audit's specific recommendations relating to items such as tenure, hiring, transfer, and dismissal for ineffectiveness. No one wants ineffective teachers to continue in our classrooms, and we need meaningful evaluations and good data to take sustainable actions where ineffectiveness is found.
In an effort to continue refining and improving the West Virginia evaluation system for educators, and to provide the basis needed for personnel actions, both sanctions and rewards, the Board is committed to a process that will continually improve and identify teacher and principal effectiveness measures. Millions of dollars have been spent nationwide over the past few years in an effort to discover and define what effective teaching looks like. We believe West Virginia should make use of the voluminous research and commit to updating and improving its own set of teacher effectiveness measures that can then be applied more comprehensively in our evaluation system. Making personnel decisions on overly subjective data is suspect at best and legally indefensible at worst. Our dedicated teachers deserve better. Our students equally deserve to have effective teachers in their classroom. The Board is committed to finding and measuring the criteria that allow our administrators to make objective and informed personnel decisions.
Across the board, West Virginia must improve the pay of our teachers. Our ability to attract and retain effective teachers depends in large part on providing adequate compensation. The Board supports exploring recommendations for programs such as homesteading through low-cost loans and student loan forgiveness. Currently, we support teachers in successfully completing National Board Certification through reimbursement of the associated costs. The Board also would recommend that we financially support our National Board Certified Teachers in their certification renewal required after 10 years.
However, there is no substitute for paying our teachers a just wage for the essential services they provide our state.
Many of the recommendations in this area suggest tying compensation to teacher effectiveness or merit. The Board agrees with the principles underlying these recommendations. However, many of the conditions prerequisite to these decisions are based on teacher effectiveness, and the criteria needed to make those judgments must be developed. The Board is committed to determining those measures in a timely manner by establishing a Board committee tasked with developing the West Virginia Teacher Effectiveness Measure (WVTEM). When WVTEM is in place, we will have the necessary valid measures. We also see merit in finding ways to provide differential pay for those teachers willing to teach in hard-to-staff areas of the state or hard-to-staff subjects. These steps are not as easy to implement fairly as might first appear, and all the consequences of this approach must be considered. Nevertheless, the Board is willing to work with the Legislature to find ways to staff all our schools with effective teachers, regardless of the geographical area or subject matter to be taught.
While the new West Virginia educator evaluation system and the new teacher effectiveness measures are under development, the WVBOE supports exploring whole-school incentives that reward the contributions and coherent work of all those within the school who contribute to higher student achievement and well-being. In some research studies, whole-school incentives have been found to raise student achievement. Student achievement and well-being are influenced by many variables within a school.
Certainly, the quality of instruction within each classroom is a significant factor. However, decades of effective schools research show consistently that the overall operation, coherence, level of expectations and instructional focus centered on learning for all students are the attributes that produce positive results for students. Today's schools operate much like a community with various members charged with providing appropriate services to students. From the school nurse, to the counselor, to the aide, to the school cook, to the principal, to each specialist or classroom teacher, all have important roles in contributing to student success. Whole-school incentives instill collective responsibility on all staff members for creating a rich and supportive environment where each student can learn.
The Board supports measures that would invest in principals by removing barriers to entry into school leadership, creating career paths, and giving some authority with accountability. While the Board supports policy revisions to give principals more control of personnel and budgetary matters, we believe this must be done in conjunction with the teacher corps in the school. An effective school requires the cooperative efforts of dedicated principals and effective and motivated teachers. If more authority is to be moved to the schoolhouse level, and we believe that can be a positive event, then principals and teachers must work together to render that new authority productive.