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States struggle to keep top teachers

States struggle to keep top teachers

By DORIE TURNER/ Associated Press

February 01, 2010

ATLANTA (AP) — Most states are holding tight to policies that protect incompetent teachers and poor training programs, shortchanging educators and their students before new teachers even step into the classroom, according to a new national report card.

The study from the National Council on Teacher Quality – which will be released Friday – paints a grim picture of how states handle everything from pay to discipline for public school teachers. States are using “broken, outdated and inflexible” policies that ultimately hurt how children learn, according to the report. In fact, even the top scoring state, Florida, received a C, with most states getting Ds or Fs. A handful of states – including Georgia, Texas and Louisiana – got a C-minus.

“We think it’s really a blueprint for reform,” council vice president Sandi Jacobs said about the report, called the State Policy Teacher Yearbook. “Each goal is something we think states could and should be doing to reform teacher quality.”

The National Council on Teacher Quality is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on teacher policies at the federal, state and local level.

The report outlines weaknesses that frustrate parents like Barbara Jones, who lives in the Atlanta suburb of Acworth and has four children in middle and high school. Jones said she once pulled her daughter out of an elementary class after hearing what teacher she would have – the same teacher who had made her son miserable a few years prior with her short temper, disorganized classroom and condescending attitude.

“That teacher stands out as one who probably should have lost her job a long time ago,” Jones said. “It’s sad that the really good teachers and the really bad teachers seem to get the same treatment.”

Still, not everyone – particularly teachers – agree with the report’s findings.

Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, which represents more than 40,000 educators in the state, called the report “incredibly flawed” because it doesn’t do enough to promote successful programs in states.

“This was more of a ‘gotcha’ document rather than ’here’s what’s working, let’s celebrate it, let’s share it,’” he said. “Instead it’s, ‘this stinks, this stinks, this stinks.’”

He said while he’s proud that Georgia is in the top 10 in the report, the council’s opinion that “everybody stinks” takes away from it.

A few other key findings:

- All but four states allow teachers who are fired multiple appeals of their dismissal, leading to a process that can last years.

- Only five states have adequate preparation for elementary educators on how to teach reading, and only one trains educators to be effective math teachers.

- More than half of the states don’t require special education teachers to take subject-matter courses while in school and don’t test them on how much of the content they know.

- Nearly every state allows tenure to be awarded “virtually automatically,” which protects inadequate teachers and makes it difficult for schools to fire them.

The report, called the “State Teacher Policy Yearbook,” comes on the heels of the deadline for states’ applications for the highly competitive Race to the Top federal grants. Those require states to prove they are strong in certain areas of education ranging from performance pay for quality teachers to welcoming environments for charter schools.

Jacobs said some of the issues outlined in the report could be addressed as states scramble to show they meet the guidelines to get some of the $4 billion in Race to the Top money. Already, some states like Georgia and Colorado are eyeing laws on performance pay, while others, such as Tennessee, have made student test scores a large part of teacher evaluations.

“We really agonized a bit over whether we should delay coming out, would there be a flurry of state activity? There is some, but it has to play out,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very exciting time to be doing this work because who would have thought there would be a $4 billion carrot?” - On the Net: National Council on Teacher Quality:

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