Policy Recommendations: Strengthening the Teaching Profession

The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future

In this excerpt from The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future (Teachers College Press, 2010), Dr. Linda Darling Hammond discusses the role that state and federal government can play to create a strong foundation for school leadership and good teaching, as well as an approach to share successes more systematically throughout the field.

Strong Professional Practice

With increased recognition that expert teachers are perhaps the most important resource for improving student learning — and the most inequitably distributed — it is imperative that the United States develop policies for recruiting, preparing, and retaining strong teachers, especially in high-need schools. Unfortunately, unlike high-achieving nations, the United States lacks a systematic approach to developing and distributing expert teachers and school leaders, or for using the skills of accomplished teachers to help improve schools.

States and the federal government have a central role to play in developing a foundation for good teaching and strong school leadership across America. As I described in Chapter 7 ("Doing What Matters Most: Developing Competent Teaching"), we know a great deal more than we once did about how to construct effective preparation, induction, and professional development programs, and we are learning much more about how to use performance-based evaluations of teaching to improve both teacher development and practice. New approaches to compensation and career development are also emerging, and there is a growing body of evidence about what incentives work to retain teachers in the profession, encourage them to teach in high-need schools, and motivate them to become more expert.

What we lack are effective policy systems for making these widespread. Although No Child Left Behind's "highly qualified teacher" requirement has reduced the hiring of utterly untrained teachers in some states, it has not included supports to make well-prepared teachers and leaders available in the neediest communities. A national supply policy like that developed in medicine is critically needed45, coupled with a rethinking of the teaching career so that teachers can become highly effective, have strong reasons to stay in the profession, and use their skills where they are needed most — both in communities serving the most underserved students and in capacities where they can affect whole-school reform.

Effective action can be modeled after federal investments in medicine. Since 1944, the federal government has subsidized medical training to fill shortages and build teaching hospitals and training programs in high-need areas — a commitment that has contributed significantly to America's world-renowned system of medical training and care. Intelligent, targeted incentives can ensure that all students have access to teachers who are indeed highly qualified. An aggressive Marshall Plan that would rapidly solve teacher shortages and dramatically upgrade teaching in all communities would cost $5 billion annually, far less than 1% of the cost thus far of the War in Iraq. Such a plan would have the following impacts.

Implications of a "Marshall Plan" for the Teaching Profession

1. Fix teacher recruitment and retention, so as to get and keep well-qualified teachers in every classroom.

First, as it does in medicine, the federal government should maintain a substantial, sustained program of service scholarships that completely cover training costs in high-quality programs at the undergraduate or graduate level for high-ability candidates who prepare to teach in a high-need location or subject area, such as mathematics, science, special education, world languages, or English as a new language. As in North Carolina's successful Teaching Fellows program (see Chapter 5, "Steady Work: How Countries Build Successful Systems"), scholarships for preparation can be linked to minimum service requirements of 4 years or more — the point at which most teachers have become effective and are committed to remaining in the profession.

Because fully prepared novices are more than twice as likely to stay in teaching as those who lack training, shortages could be reduced rapidly if districts hire well-prepared teachers. And with lower attrition, the numbers of new recruits needed each year would decline sharply. Virtually all of the vacancies currently filled with emergency teachers could be filled with well-prepared teachers if 40,000 service scholarships of up to $25,000 each were offered annually. Although substantial, this commitment would be only a fraction of that made by high-achieving countries, which underwrite all the costs of high-quality teacher preparation for all their candidates.

Recruitment incentives could also be used to attract and retain expert, experienced teachers in high-need schools. As part of a broader career ladder initiative, described below, federal matching grants to states and districts could provide incentives for the design of innovative approaches to attract and keep accomplished teachers in priority low-income schools, through compensation for accomplishment and for additional responsibilities, such as mentoring and coaching, improved working conditions, and opportunities to redesign schools to make them more effective.

For example, $500 million could provide $10,000 in additional compensation for 50,000 teachers annually to be allocated to expert teachers in high-need schools through innovative compensation systems that recognize teacher expertise through mechanisms such as National Board Certification, local standards-based evaluations, and carefully assembled evidence of contributions to student learning. The importance of an integrated approach to improving school settings, supporting learning, and recognizing success is described further below.

Providing mentoring for all beginning teachers would, research suggests, greatly reduce attrition and increase teacher competence. States should establish high-quality mentoring programs that fund regular in-classroom coaching for all beginning teachers. A federal matching grant program could help leverage such programs, ensuring support for every new teacher in the country. Based on the funding model used in California's Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program, a federal allocation of $3,000 for each beginning teacher, matched by states or local districts, could fund weekly in-classroom coaching for every novice in his or her first year.

At 125,000 new teachers each year,46 an investment of $500 million could ensure that every novice is coached by a trained, accomplished mentor with expertise in the relevant teaching field. If the early-career teachers who now leave teaching at high rates were to be retained, the nation would save $1 billion a year in replacement costs.47

Ideally, a federally funded incentive to states and districts to create strong mentoring programs would be accompanied by support for the use of beginning teacher performance assessments like those developed in California and Connecticut, which can guide teacher learning, improve mentoring and preparation, and help develop sophisticated practice as part of an ongoing career advancement process. (see Chapter 7 and the discussion below.) These assessments create a lever that not only helps teachers develop much more sophisticated skills much sooner, but also transforms preparation and mentoring so they are focused on the skills that make a difference for student and teacher success, rather than just offering disjointed advice or a buddy system.

2. Reinvent teacher preparation and professional development so that teachers can meet 21st-century learning needs and develop sophisticated skills.

To transform preparation and professional development, a combination of strong pressure and supports is needed. To make expert teaching the rule rather than the exception, state and local policies need to create a continuum of professional learning for teachers based on recently developed standards that guide teacher preparation and licensing, early induction, ongoing professional development, and advanced certification.

A critical first step is for states to make teacher education performance-based, and require all programs — whether they are offered by universities, districts, or other providers — to demonstrate that they can enable teachers to teach effectively by meeting professional accreditation standards, and closing programs that cannot meet the standards. The two teacher education accrediting agencies — currently about to merge — have committed to making their decisions in substantial part based on evidence of graduates' performance, effectiveness, and retention in the classroom.

Development of a high-quality, nationally available teacher performance assessment for beginning teachers, measuring actual teaching skill in the content areas, would contribute to this effort to raise the bar dramatically on the quality of preparation. In states that have already used them, these assessments have been strong levers for improving preparation and mentoring, as well as determining teachers' competence.

They have been found not only to measure features of teaching associated with effectiveness, but actually to help develop effectiveness at the same time — not only for the participants but also for those involved in mentoring and assessing these performances (see Chapter 7). The assessments require the practices teachers need to learn to be effective with diverse students — for example, planning and teaching a curriculum unit with built-in adaptations and formative assessments for English language learners and students with disabilities, reflecting on evidence of student learning each day to revise plans for the next day, and tracking student learning growth with the goal of adapting instruction to ensure progress for all learners.48

Thus, these approaches are particularly valuable targets for policy investments, as they offer an engine for developing teaching quality across the profession while providing a useful measure of how teachers contribute to student learning. Federal support for the development of a nationally available performance assessment for licensing would not only provide an important tool for accountability and improvement, but it would also facilitate teacher mobility across states, if it were part of an effort to unify the current medieval system of teacher testing and licensure that has resulted in 50 separate fiefdoms across the country.

This would help get teachers much more easily from the states with surpluses to those with shortages and ensure more consistency in their training. This goal is within reach: In addition to states that have already incorporated such performance assessments in the licensing process, another 10 states have recently committed to doing so and are developing a common version.

As it does in medicine, the federal government can also provide incentives to develop successful preparation models that focus on how to teach standards-based content to diverse learners, including students with disabilities and English Language Learner students. Successful programs like those described in Chapter 7, whose graduates are highly competent from day one and produce strong learning gains for their students, should be further documented, and their features should be incorporated in challenge grants to universities to revamp current practices. These features should also be the focus of serious accreditation reviews, creating a race to the top in teacher education, rather than the race to the bottom that we seem currently determined to win.

One thing that is clear from current studies of strong programs is that learning to practice in practice, with expert guidance, is essential to becoming a great teacher of students with a wide range of needs. To improve preparation, states and accreditors should require a full year of clinical training for prospective teachers, ideally undertaken in professional development schools (PDS) that, like teaching hospitals, offer yearlong residencies under the guidance of expert teachers. These PDS sites develop state-of-the-art practice and train novices in the classrooms of expert teachers while they are completing coursework that helps them learn to teach diverse learners well.

These schools also engage in intensive professional learning for veteran teachers and may become hubs of professional development for their districts. Many of the more than 1,000 current sites are located in urban districts, creating a pipeline of teachers who are well prepared to teach in these districts. Highly developed models have been found to increase teacher effectiveness and raise student achievement.49

Just as the federal government has played a major role in underwriting teaching hospitals to strengthen medical training, so a strategic initiative, partnered with states, could take this successful innovation from the margins to the mainstream. Most important are models that can simultaneously improve teacher competence and retention and meet pressing supply needs in hard-to-staff urban and rural locations.

Federal support can make a major contribution by underwriting teacher residency programs that place carefully screened recruits as paid apprentices in professional development school sites that offer expert mentor teachers for a year while they complete credential coursework in curriculum, teaching, and learning with local partnering universities. When they become teachers, these recruits also receive 2 years of mentoring. In exchange for this high-quality preparation, candidates pledge to spend at least 4 years in the district's schools. This model has already shown teacher retention rates of over 90% after 5 years for graduates in Chicago, Boston, and Denver. (See Chapter 7.)

Funding to develop residency programs has been included in President Obama's stimulus package, and should be continued and expanded to at least $500 million annually to support state-of-the-art training that creates a stable supply of teachers in hard-to-staff districts. Such programs can solve several problems simultaneously — creating a pipeline of committed teachers who are well prepared to engage in best practice for children in high-need schools, while developing demonstration sites that serve as models for urban and rural teaching and teacher education.

Encourage and reward teacher and school leader knowledge and skill to retain expert teachers and improve schools.

3. The first order of business here is for states to develop an infrastructure for high-quality professional development by funding professional development time and organizing the multiple resources of the state — from universities, districts, and nonprofit organizations — to ensure that expertise and capacity are developed to improve teaching in the content areas and address student needs, such as support for English language learners and students with learning disabilities.

As in a number of states, Teacher and Leadership Academies can play a key role in doing this, helping to organize intensive institutes and networks to support leadership learning and teaching in the content areas, training principals and teachers as mentors and coaches who can support others in districts, and providing materials and expertise to support professional learning at the school level. Districts should enable schools to tap both these external resources and the critical resource of expert teachers within the schools, by creating time and regular opportunities for peer coaching and collaborative learning.


Our policy section is made possible by a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation. The statements and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.


Darling-Hammond, L. The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future (2010). Chapter 9, Policy for Quality and Equity Strong Professional Practice. Pps. 313-318. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University. 2010.


Darling-Hammond, L. & Bransford,J. (2005). Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Darling-Hammond, L. & Sykes, G. (2003). Wanted: A national teacher supply policy for education: The right way to meet the "highly qualified teacher" challenge. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 11(33). Retrieved June 4, 2009, from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v11n33/

Pecheone, R.L. & Chung, R.R. (2006). Evidence in teacher education: The performance assessment for California teachers (PACT). Journal of Teacher Education, 57(1), 22-36.


45For a fuller treatment of the design of a national teacher supply policy, see Darling-Hammond & Sykes (2003).

46About 250,000 teachers are hired each year, but typically only 40-60% of them are new to teaching. The others are experienced teachers changing schools or returning teachers who are re-entering the labor force.

47Current attrition rates result in the loss of about 50,000 teachers with less than 3 years of experience in each cohort of new teachers. At replacement costs of $20,000 per recruit, this costs the nation approximately $1 billion annually, not counting the costs of other turnover.

48Pecheone & Chung (2006).

49Darling-Hammond & Bransford (2005), pp. 415-416.


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