Education Department Launches "National Conversation" on Teacher Quality

National Education Association leaders believe a new Department of Education proposal is a promising proposition toward improving the teaching profession. This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan launched RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching), a proposal that challenges states and districts to work with teachers and their unions to support and improve the teaching profession.

“Our goal is to work with educators in rebuilding their profession—and to elevate the teacher voice in shaping federal, state and local education policy,” Secretary Duncan said at the launch of the RESPECT Project on Wednesday, calling the project a “national conversation.”  “Our larger goal is to make teaching not only America’s most important profession—but America’s most respected profession.”

In December of 2011, NEA announced its own aggressive agenda for transforming the profession called NEA’s Three-Point Plan for Education Reform. The plan outlines strategies that will increase the quality of teacher candidates, make sure that teachers remain at the top of their game throughout their careers, and to improve student learning by improving the teaching profession.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the RESPECT plan represents a critical first-step in helping all students have access to the necessary resources – namely qualified and licensed teachers who are empowered to innovate – to receive a quality education.

“Recruiting talented candidates and providing substantive, high-quality preparation is essential in ensuring quality schools,” said Van Roekel.  “We are particularly pleased that others beyond our organization are beginning to acknowledge the comprehensive set of supports that schools need to improve and to recognize that there is no ‘silver-bullet’ when it comes to transforming schools.”

RESPECT includes support for career pathways and expanded teacher leadership roles, including professional development and time for collaboration, as well as greater autonomy.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announcing the launch of the RESPECT Project.

“We believe strongly that the systemic approach outlined in RESPECT represents the kind of thinking that’s going to improve our public schools, making them all exceptional institutions of learning for all students,” Van Roekel said. “When we talk about reforming schools, we must extend the conversation beyond excellence. We must address the issue of equity. Then we can begin to change what our schools look like and how they effectively serve all students.”

The RESPECT plan and NEA’s Three-Point Plan both call for more rigorous standards for entry into the profession, as well as for developing systems that help ensure that those who are in the classroom maintain a high standard of practice. Together they set the stage for establishing a world-class teaching force that puts student learning at its core and is focused on helping students acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive as 21st century citizens. It takes more than teachers to support students, including strong instructional school leaders and qualified and committed educational support professionals.

“It’s encouraging to me that educators and the Administration are moving in the same direction with the same range of goals for transforming our schools. NEA cannot do this alone and we applaud the Administration for stepping up and offering its own agenda for change,” said Van Roekel. “By focusing on teacher quality at the front door of the profession, increasing professional development and keeping student learning central to all that we do, we can implement great change for our students.