New research clearly correlates what teachers know and do with student learning. The value-added studies of Sanders and other researchers have been able to isolate teacher effects, independent of external variables such as socioeconomic status of students. With this new knowledge, student achievement can no longer be explained simply as a result of student and/or school characteristics. This has resulted in a heightened interest in teacher quality.
Teacher quality has many facets: the individual characteristics of the teacher, the interactions in the classroom, and the environmental conditions and practices that foster excellence in teaching. Teacher Quality in Canada1 provides a better understanding both of the complexity of teaching and the responsibilities of management for effective teacher deployment. This new research examines current practices and innovative trends in promoting quality in the classroom.
Supply and Demand: Teacher Quality is significantly impacted by supply and demand. In Canada, the issue appears to currently be one of distribution. Overall, there are a sufficient number of teachers but specific shortages exist in some geographic areas and in some subject areas. A greater proportion of the teaching population is over the age of 50 and the education sector has the lowest median age of retirement of any industry in Canada. The gaps in Canadian statistics regarding supply and demand must be addressed in order to develop appropriate data-based national/regional strategies.
Preparation and Induction: The initial preparation of teachers is a critical aspect of quality, as knowledge of how students learn, teaching methods and subject content correlates positively with student outcomes. Teacher certification is a provincial responsibility, and the content of teacher preparation programs varies widely. In the absence of national standards or comparative evaluations, post-secondary institutions exercise de facto control over the content of teacher preparation programs. Following a practice adopted elsewhere, Ontario has recently introduced two types of testing for teachers. The research is inconclusive on the effects of alternate credentialing for teachers such as that being used to meet unique and emerging needs. Beginning teachers who are mentored in their first years have proven more effective overall, and induction programs are shown to help retain teachers in the profession. Examples are provided of programs that result in lower attrition of beginning teachers, higher levels of competence, and greater selectivity.
Personnel Practices: Although personnel practices are critical to the quality of the teaching force, these are often driven by collective agreement language rather than classroom needs. Phillips examines tenure, seniority, hiring and assignment issues, and finds Canadian public education systems generally provide few incentives to ensure that skills and experience are in place where they can have the greatest impact on student achievement.
Effective recruitment and selection are essential, as tenured teachers are rarely dismissed. Following appointment, longer probationary periods would provide an opportunity for mentoring and more thorough evaluation of suitability for a teaching career. Shorter dismissal processes for teachers who do not respond to remediation would also support quality. The prominence of seniority in teacher assignment has yet to be addressed in Canada, although seniority has been abandoned in some other jurisdictions.
Alternate ways of scheduling time in order to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching staff also hold potential for increasing teacher competency. This includes extending the day to provide opportunity for collaboration, balancing the calendar to maximize student learning and minimize teacher stress and moving teaching to a year-round occupation in order to provide additional, continuous professional development. Differentiated staffing may also provide more efficiency in delivering some programs.
Professional Development: On-going professional development expands teacher capacity to develop the skills and knowledge to adapt to new challenges. However, professional development in Canada is chiefly left to the discretion of individual teachers, rather than coordinated training at the site to meet agreed instructional goals. This quality goal is difficult to attain given contract language, underfunding, time constraints and a general lack of broader public support/understanding of the critical need for teacher professional development.
Evaluation: Teacher evaluations are intended to ensure that all students are being provided with adequate learning opportunities and to provide teachers with constructive improvement information. Reliable, relevant, consistent data collection is critical to the effectiveness of this process. Teacher evaluation practices in Canada are largely prescribed by collective agreement language that limits the content, use, scope and consequences of the results, and lack the rigor associated with other professional and technical occupations. Peer Assistance and Peer Review are two programs that hold promise for teacher quality improvement.
Compensation: While pay may not act as a dominant motivator, it is still relevant to teacher quality and can be an effective component of a larger strategy to improve teacher quality, particularly in areas where other professional supports have been provided. Salary grids in Canada stress seniority and pre-service preparation, with limited recognition for subject specialization, difficult assignments, and professional growth.
Incentives in the form of positive motivational influences such as enhanced working conditions or monetary bonuses are a means of increasing productivity. Traditionally these incentives have been limited to recruitment and retention, ignoring the potential benefits of their strategic use to enhance the educationally appropriate distribution of teachers or to focus teachers on acquiring desirable skills. Such incentives include compensation for additional training, time, and/or responsibilities, and for hard-to-staff assignments. Cooperative Performance Incentive plans (CPI) are promising systems that reward the attainment of defined school-wide educational goals. Properly and fairly implemented, achievement-focused incentive programs can be expected to increase costs, at least in the short-term. The research is clear, however, that pay reform is not the single solution to overcome our teaching quality challenges.
Phillips concludes with a number of recommendations to support teacher quality in Canadian classrooms. Among these are:
* Evaluation and improvement of teacher preparation programs, based on research and practice;
* Widespread establishment of teacher mentoring and induction programs;
* Hiring and assignment practices for teacher quality assurance;
* On-going, school-embedded professional development designed for its impact on student learning;
* Regular evaluations throughout a teacherās career that are focused on quality recognition and control; and
* Experimentation with compensation incentives to encourage productivity and the application of specialized skills and knowledge.
1. Phillips, Susan (2002) Teacher Quality in Canada. SAEE. 116 pp.