by Dean L. Kalahar
The season for education reform has finally arrived with the inauguration of George W. Bush. Within his first week, President Bush moved forward with an education reform package that will begin to steer our schools out of troubled waters. Clearly the bipartisan support of his efforts is a message to all schools that the time for complacency is over. With all of that said however, no plan for improving our schools will be complete if it does not include a component that addresses instructional leadership.
There are three broad areas that need to be part of the vision for change in our schools: infusing the principles of free market capitalism; applying the concept of standards, testing and accountability; and reshaping our paradigm of teacher training and certification. These fundamental reforms set forth a long term course of action for fixing our failing schools. With that said, a new vision for improving schools will not fulfill its mission if it is not directly linked to the day to day instructional needs of children who are currently trapped in broken classrooms. Fortunately, there is a way to enhance the package of school reforms to meet the short term challenge of providing instructional leadership in order to make all classrooms effective.
Everyone agrees that successful teaching is the key to learning but all to often children are sitting in classrooms where the instruction falls far short of adequate. Ask any teacher across America if there are colleagues that should not be teaching children and you will hear a sobering testimony to the affirmative. In the next breath however, those same teachers will be able to describe educators that are masters of their craft. The foundation of any reform effort will be to utilize our best educators as instructional leaders in order to guide teachers who need help and hold accountable those who pollute our schools with inadequate instruction.
Current merit pay programs using the master teacher moniker are little more than contests to acquire bonus pay with little or no change occurring in classroom instruction or achievement in schools overall. What needs to be created is a system in which master teachers, identified based on strict standards of competency, are placed in all schools as legitimate instructional leaders.
Iron clad tenure and powerful union interests who are holding our schools hostage will do everything in their power to destroy this initiative. Unfortunately for the establishment, any attacks against productive instructional leadership will show their true objective of self serving control and power. Educators who truly want the best environment for children will applaud and embrace a common sense approach to providing leadership inside the classroom.
Millions of dollars are being wasted every year building monuments of mediocrity and paying the salaries of teachers who care more about cashing their paycheck than teaching children. Many establishment educators will continue to cry that increased funding will solve our school woes citing empty calls for reducing class size or paying for more unnecessary programs. In reality, all the dollars spent on reforms of the past and present will be wasted if the adult in Johnny's classroom does not know how to teach.
The cost to pay for instructional leaders can be absorbed within budgets that are currently over inflated. The principles that make up the core of effective school reform are free to anyone who is willing to apply them towards educational improvement. Any program development that has expenses associated with its implementation can be funded with dollars redirected from other areas. Creating a new paradigm for instructional leadership does not entail spending more money or increasing the size of government. We must use the abundant resources that are in place to attack the problem of poor classroom performance where it counts.
The placement of master teachers in our schools can have the greatest immediate impact on student performance. The reason is because the traditional principal teacher role for administrators has been lost to managerial duties and an ever expanding bureaucracy. What has been left is a situation where instructional leadership has been lost in our schools and effective teaching in all classrooms has suffered. School boards need to create a system where administrators run the day to day operation of the school plant while master teachers take on the role of instructional managers.
Working directly in classrooms where teachers need instructional training and support, master teachers would act as consultants to teach proven instructional methods and provide an accountability component in order to oversee instructional proficiency and outcomes. A master teacher program would increase the incentive for teachers to strive in developing instructional expertise in order to achieve master teacher status for themselves in the future.
Broad powers and autonomy in the decision making process would be given to master teachers in order to effect instruction. Holding positions at or above those currently held by school administrators, master teachers would be compensated at a level appropriate to their professional stature and responsibility within the system. Teacher trainers would be accountable directly to the board of education or a school oversight committee. Because of the focus on quality brought forth by instructional leaders, teachers would have to start acting like professionals, improve their instruction or get out of the classroom.
If we are serious about giving all students an education second to none, the day to day instructional needs of children must be monitored and enhanced. A new vision for public schools can be created if master teachers act as change agents promoting the best of free market capitalism, standards, testing, accountability, teacher training and certification.
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