Teachers tell Department of Ed about RESPECT

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Members of the Advance Illinois Educator Advisory Council met with a federal “teacher ambassador” on Tuesday to give feedback on a 12-page draft proposal for the RESPECT Project, a proposed $5 billion grant program for states and districts that aims to sever the links between teacher pay and years of service and broadly restructure the teaching profession.

“Our goal is for a national conversation about the RESPECT Project to serve as a catalyst for remaking teaching on a grand scale,” the proposal states.

Many told Dexter Chaney, a Ryerson Elementary assistant principal who received a Teaching Ambassador Fellowship with the U.S. Department of Education, that they were optimistic the government’s plan could attract more students to the teaching profession.

“Our best and our brightest never go into education,” said Terri Goggin, a teacher from Greenville, Ill. “If you ask them what they want to do, it’s never education.”

Several praised the “apprentice” or “resident teacher” model, which would require new teachers to spend a full year getting hands-on experience in a school before becoming responsible for a class of their own.

“I see new teachers walk into my building and I think, ‘They should not be in there alone,’” said Evanston teacher Anne McKenna, recalling the challenges she faced in her first years.

However, others questioned the plan’s practicality, noting that it might actually make teaching less attractive – or pull the best teachers toward administrative duties, preventing them from having a positive effect on students.

“It seems like that’s going to be another layer of administration,” said Carol Broos, a retired Northfield teacher. The best teachers, Broos said, urgently need to be teaching rather than performing other duties.

 

In the face of the education system’s entrenched way of doing business, it is not clear whether a grant program can spur the type of dramatic change that the RESPECT Project is aiming for.

“How are you going to keep this grand vision from becoming a morass of details?” said Craig Lindvahl, a teacher from Effingham County, Ill., noting school systems’ propensity for regulations and procedures.

The proposal’s general outlines have already drawn praise from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, but many of the specifics could be controversial.

What’s more, the RESPECT Project’s future is not firm yet. In a tight budget year, it could be easy for its planned $5 billion in funding to be slashed to a fraction of that, or even eliminated altogether.

Its goals include:

*Raising the bar for admission to and graduation from teacher preparation programs, and for allowing teachers to keep their jobs

*Requiring success in a year-long paid residency before new teachers have a class of their own

*Configuring schools and classrooms “based on students’ needs and teachers’ abilities, rather than on traditionally prescribed formulas.” For instance, there could be smaller classes for students who are behind, or larger classes where veteran teachers work together with newer ones.

*Expanding the use of technology and support staff to allow for higher student-teacher ratios

*Grouping students based on ability and knowledge instead of age, and adapting the length of the school day and year based on individual student needs. “For teachers, this means that the hours of instruction might vary depending on the student population,” the proposal states.

*Doing away with punch-clocks and instead, asking teachers to work “professional weeks and days” (including time for planning, reflection, collaboration, and training) with many working year-round. “In some cases, time spent on duties out of class might far exceed the amount spent in the classroom,” the proposal notes.

*Merit pay for teachers, based on their responsibilities, student performance, results of classroom observations and feedback from students and peers.

*“Dramatically increasing potential earnings for teachers” in order to attract top students into the profession. The proposal outlines a sample salary and role structure for teachers, based on teachers’ performance, responsibilities, and whether they teach in high-need subjects and schools:

Resident teachers: $20,000

Provisional teachers, who are in their first 2 to 5 years after the residency (the equivalent of today’s untenured teachers): $35,000-$50,000

Professional teachers: $65,000 to $120,000

Master teachers, who coach part-time, and teacher leaders, who work part-time in school or district administration: $80,000 to $150,000