“So much of the change ahead rests on the leadership of educators in classrooms and schools. Indeed, it is what happens in classrooms that make the difference for our students in education—particularly those who have the odds most stacked against them.” – Acting Secretary John B. King, January 21, 2016
It’s a time of great opportunity to be an educator in America. Teachers are leading through a period of immense change – with a transition to higher standards and better assessments, increased use of technology to support and enhance student learning, and a renewed understanding of the importance of a well-rounded education to every student’s success. Additionally, with the passage of the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, we have an opportunity to continue the law’s civil rights legacy by ensuring equity and positive outcomes for all students are emphasized in important ways. The law also upholds protections for high-needs students, requires that all students be taught to high academic standards, and supports and grows local innovations. Indeed, teachers have the opportunity to shape the implementation of a new law in America.
What’s more, research proves – and every parent understands – that the most important school-based factor impacting a child’s academic success is the quality of the classroom teacher. As a result, working in our highest-needs schools should be a reward for excellence for teachers, and a path to continued career success.
That’s why the 2017 budget includes several investments to recruit, develop, support, and retain the outstanding teachers and leaders that our students – and especially our most disadvantaged students – need to be successful.
The 2017 budget invests in educators with $1 billion to ensure that teaching in high-needs schools is a step into a great job and a step up in an educator’s career. The new RESPECT: Best Job in the World program would provide compensation and support for effective teachers in high-need schools. This funding would support the implementation of teacher-led development opportunities that improve instruction and would help high-needs schools and districts foster positive school climates that encourage success for students and teachers alike. Finally, through leveraging teacher leadership to improve working conditions in high-needs schools, this program would help make the schools with the greatest needs the best places to work and learn. This proposal will allow districts to transform working with the most vulnerable students into the most attractive job for effective educators.
Teachers see the challenges that their students and schools face, but they also develop solutions that fit the unique needs of their communities. Teachers are best positioned to develop innovative solutions and to lead reforms. Across the country, we need teachers to use their insights and expertise to help us solve the most pressing challenges in education, or we will not live up to our promise as a country.
The Obama Administration strongly supports efforts to encourage more authentic opportunities for teachers to lead from the classroom. That’s why the 2017 budget includes $10 million for Teach to Lead grants, which will provide direct support to teachers who develop innovative reforms with the potential for wider impact on improving student outcomes. This effort builds on the promising work begun through the Department’s Teach to Lead convenings, held throughout 2015, during which time teachers identified problems of practice impacting their schools and communities and developed outcomes-based action plans they are now implementing to solve these problems.
Preparing Teachers for the Classroom
To help teachers achieve success in the classroom, we must strengthen teacher preparation. High-quality programs must not only equip teachers with the skills they need to be ready to succeed in a real-world classroom, but they also must train teachers to be culturally competent and connect with the students and families they serve.
With the proposed Teacher and Principal Pathways program, teachers will get that opportunity to learn and prepare for the classroom. The Pathways program supports colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations – in partnership with schools – to create or expand pathways into the teaching profession. This program focuses on high-need schools and subjects, especially science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Students who make the life-changing decision to become a teacher – and enroll in a high-quality teacher preparation program – shouldn’t be bankrupted by their choice. The 2017 budget includes a new initiative that will provide up to $25,000 in student loan forgiveness for teachers graduating from an effective preparation program who serve in low-income schools, starting in 2021. This program streamlines current postsecondary assistance options – like TEACH grants and the teacher loan forgiveness program – into a single program, where the benefit increases over time, as teachers stay in high-needs schools.
Advancing Educators’ Careers
The 2017 budget also recognizes that teachers should have the opportunity to advance their careers – whether through higher pay in recognition for outstanding performance, professional development, or other leadership opportunities.
The reauthorized Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grants program will support efforts to develop, implement, or expand human capital management systems or performance-based compensation systems in schools. This $250 million program focuses on ways to attract, develop, and retain talented, committed, and accomplished teachers in high-need areas.
Once in the classroom, teachers share that they can sometimes feel underwhelmed by one-shot workshops that don’t provide effective opportunities to improve skills, collaborate with colleagues, or hone their craft. That’s why the 2017 budget includes $100 million for Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED), so that nonprofits can provide evidence-based professional development activities, as well as prepare teachers and principals to serve in traditionally underserved school districts.
Budget Instrumental to Future Success
We know that teachers are fundamentally important to the success of our schools, classrooms, and students. We also know that we can – and must – get better at recruiting, attracting, retaining, supporting, and rewarding America’s best and brightest educators. The 2017 budget acts on that belief, putting key programs and new initiatives in place that support and elevate the teaching profession.
If our teachers and leaders are supported, there’s no limit to what our students can do.
Meredith Linnehan is a member of the Communications Development Team in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.