The research is clear: teachers matter most when it comes to improving student learning. The most effective teachers can teach even the most disadvantaged students up to high standards. Facilities, technology, work experiences, extra-curricular activities and many other school-based factors are important, but nothing surpasses the teacher – nothing.
That’s one of the reasons why the state Board of Education in its response to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s “Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia’s Primary and Secondary Education System” placed teachers at the top. 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. When we do, it is students who benefit most.
As Stanford University Professor Eric Hanushek says, a high-performing teacher, one at the 84th percentile of all teachers, when compared with just an average teacher can help student achievement improve dramatically from year to year.
“Extensive research on schools leads to a single conclusion,” Hanushek said. “Student achievement is directly related to the quality of teachers. No other potential focus of school policy has anything like the effectiveness of policies that recruit and retain good teachers.”
As we work to improve our public schools in West Virginia, we must make sure our work includes developing, rewarding and retaining great educators. Without quality teachers and teaching, we will be unable to provide a thorough and efficient learning system for the nearly 280,000 students in our schools.
The recommendations in the Education Efficiency Audit Report pertaining to teachers are organized under four broad categories:
These areas not only address public concerns, they help move our state forward.
Firstly, by launching a comprehensive plan to prepare and recruit the best teachers, we are paving the road to success for our students. Those of us on the state board believe we can help by providing more flexibility in the hiring of teachers and by better preparing teachers at all levels. Although the board notes that seniority of the applicants should be a factor when filling vacancies, it should not be the only factor.
Secondly, the new West Virginia Educator Evaluation System, adopted by the Legislature and implemented by board policy, is in its infancy. As use of this new system grows, we are confident both teachers and students will benefit. This system promises to provide meaningful evaluations and good data so that our principals can take sustainable actions where ineffectiveness is found.
Thirdly, West Virginia must improve the pay of our teachers to attract and retain effective teachers. We have proposed exploring recommendations for programs like student loan forgiveness to help provide adequate compensation. However, we want to make it clear that there is no substitute for paying our teachers a just wage for the essential services they provide our state.
Lastly, we must work to strengthen school leadership by supporting measures that would invest in principals. In conjunction with teachers, we want to remove barriers to give principals more control of personnel and budgetary matters. If more authority is to be moved to the schoolhouse level, principals and teachers must work together to render that new authority productive.
West Virginia’s 20,000 teachers are some of the most experienced and dedicated professionals in the country and crucial in the quest to prepare students for the 21st century. They have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college teacher preparation program and meet certification requirements to teach in the state. Yet, our teaching corps is also aging so we must take steps to fill the void their future retirement will create. Doing so will require elevating the profession.
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. And we must do more than say we value our teachers; we must take the actions and provide the resources that demonstrate we value them.
Still, 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 and business partnerships.
The state board is dedicated to serious education reform to create the best schools and adequately prepare teachers to teach and principals to lead them. Improving the effectiveness of our public schools is an urgent task, one we at the state Board of Education are committed to addressing by always making decisions that put students first.
Haden is a member of the West Virginia Board of Education.