THERE have been a variety of (seemingly) simplistic, populist approaches to the challenge of improving teacher quality. These include “merit” or “performance” pay; payment by student examination results; raising entry standards to teaching; higher teacher pay generally; smaller class sizes; standardised testing; publishing “league tables” of school performance and sacking poorly performing teachers. These measures frequently lack finer detail on how they might operate, are not supported by evidence and represent an ad hoc, fragmented response.
Earlier this year, the Business Council of Australia commissioned staff at the Australian Council for Educational Research to write a position paper for the BCA on quality teaching. Our paper, “Investing in Teacher Quality: Doing What Matters Most,” was released this week as part of a BCA publication Teaching Talent: The Best Teachers for Australia’s Schools. The report has received wide publicity and general support from the profession.
Where the approach outlined in the BCA report differs from previous efforts in the area of raising teacher quality, and therefore student achievement, lies in the nature of the comprehensive, national, integrated approach that is advocated.
What did the BCA report find?
• The quality of teaching is the main driver of successful student learning outcomes.
• Australia’s teaching profession and its schools constitute an infrastructure that is critical to its survival in an increasingly global economy.
• Every student deserves teachers who are suited to teaching, well trained and qualified, highly skilled, caring and committed to moving forward the learning of their students.
• One of the main roles of leadership in professions is to build a framework for professional learning from registration to advanced levels of standards, and systems for providing assessments and certification for members who reach those standards. It important, therefore, to strengthen leadership in quality teaching at the wider professional level as well as at the level of the individual school.
• Education in Australia is still highly bureaucratised, and it is time to question whether bureaucratic management of schools by state education departments is sufficient to deliver the kind of leadership that influences teachers’ practice significantly or improves student learning outcomes.
• Stakeholders are unanimous that the first step in achieving improved outcomes in education is to attract the best people into teaching.
• Salary may not be a strong reason why current teachers have chosen to teach, but it is a strong reason why many abler graduates choose not to teach, and this is cause for considerable concern if we want our education system to remain among the best in the world. There is no justification for assuming from this that our society can continue to get away with not paying teachers what they are worth. Research studies also constantly confirm that salary and working conditions are the main reasons why many good teachers leave the profession.
• Present arrangements in teaching do not encourage, reward or indeed require advanced professional learning.
• It is clear that there is a broad consensus that action is needed to radically strengthen procedures for recognising and rewarding teachers who reach high teaching standards.
• Who really believes that a top salary for classroom teachers of about $70,000 means we place sufficient value on teachers’ work to attract the best university graduates? Who really believes that the typical office spaces in which teachers are expected to prepare and assess student work and carry out their business are indicators of an attractive and esteemed profession?
• Attracting enough people into teacher education and attracting people of suitable quality are two major issues that tend to work against each other. Any decline in the attractiveness of teaching is cause for concern, particularly if this results in universities lowering entry standards to fill their allocated quotas for teacher education students. When decline in the attractiveness of teaching as a career coincides with projected teacher shortages, this increases the pressure for entry standards to fall. This is the situation we face at present. Entry standards to teaching must not be allowed to fall further. Rather, they should rise.
• The next step is to prepare future teachers through teacher education programs that meet the highest standards. It is becoming clear that the most effective way of achieving quality and consistency will be through a system of national accreditation of teacher education courses.
• There is a pressing need for a unified national approach to managing teacher demand and supply.
• There are no cost-neutral ways to ensure that in the future Australia will have a teaching profession equal to the best in the world. But there will be major costs if we do not. Fortunately, there is broad public recognition of the need for better pay and conditions for teachers. This is conditional, however, on guarantees that it will be linked to sound evidence of improving teacher quality and professional performance.
• Newly conceived career paths are needed for the teaching profession to ensure that teachers have strong incentives to engage in the type of professional learning that leads to high teaching standards and improves student learning outcomes. Salary structures for teachers need to be more effective as instruments for promoting widespread use of successful teaching practices.
• Although there is strong agreement that teacher quality is fundamental, it is currently difficult to find evidence of coherent, concerted, coordinated policy efforts at state and federal levels focused on teacher quality. Accountability for ensuring quality teachers and school leaders is unclear and diffused.
• Education policy needs to focus more clearly on what matters most to student learning - concerted, long-term policies and strategies to assure quality in the teaching profession. We know that good teachers matter, but we must start to act as if we really believed it.
What does the BCA report advocate?
First, a new national agency should be established with one sole function: to establish and provide a voluntary advanced certification system for teachers. (Initial registration is compulsory and remains the responsibility of state registration bodies).
Second, this agency should be constituted so that it brings together all the major stakeholders with an interest in recognising and rewarding quality teaching.
Third, the agency should offer certification at two levels beyond initial registration as a competent teacher: the Accomplished Teacher level and the Leading Teacher level. Salaries for Accomplished Teachers should reach a level that is twice the starting salary for graduate teachers. Leading Teacher salaries should reach a salary that is 2.5 times starting salaries.
Fourth, standards at the Accomplished Teacher level should differentiate between what accomplished teachers know and do within each specialist field of teaching (early childhood specialist, primary school specialist, high school English specialist, etc). Standards at the Leading Teacher level should differentiate between what teacher leaders know and do to promote improved learning outcomes among teams of teachers.
Fifth, the main purposes of the system will be twofold: to provide a basis for offering more attractive salaries and career paths to graduates and those who seek to change careers; and to strengthen incentives for professional learning and widespread use of successful practices.
The report also called for national standards for teacher education courses, national accreditation of such courses and a minimum ENTER score of 75 for entry to all courses.
It should be noted that the BCA report estimated that it will take ten years or more to reach a stage where 50 per cent of teachers have been certified at the Accomplished and Leading Teacher levels, based on the voluntary certification of approximately 10,000 teachers per annum. Contrary to recent press reporting and reaction, only a minority of teachers - no more than 20 per cent - would receive a salary equivalent to around $130,000 in today’s value. This proposal does not call for or constitute a doubling of the teacher wage bill.
What is clear is the necessary relationship between the development of teaching as a profession and the development of more effective systems for teacher evaluation and professional development based on profession-defined standards. As we contemplate strategies for revitalising the teaching profession and assuring the quality of Australia’s education system in the future, the need for an independent national body with a clearly defined certification function has become imperative.