Global survey can help shape profession, Weingarten says

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The Teaching and Learning International Survey offers convincing evidence that the way for this nation to attract and retain great teachers is to provide them with the time, tools and trust they need to do outstanding work, AFT President Randi Weingarten said this month.

Weingarten made her remarks June 25 at the National Press Club, at a summit organized by the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The event was designed to build on findings from the 2013 TALIS, an international survey of more than 100,000 teachers and school leaders in 34 jurisdictions, and to explore how countries across the world develop and support their educators.

"Professional Learning: What Can We Learn from International Data & Practice?" was the title of the session; Weingarten said the answer is plenty.

"As TALIS shows us, only a third of [U.S. teachers] feel respected and valued by society," lower than other advanced nations, Weingarten said. "Young people may be less likely to aspire to a job that is not highly valued" as the economy rebounds from the Great Recession. "We already know that teacher preparation programs in the U.S. are receiving fewer applications, and there is decreased interest in Teach for America."

TALIS also shows the peril in getting "sidelined into a divisive debate on tenure," the AFT president said. In the United States, 67 percent of teachers work under contracts that include due process; the average in other countries is 83 percent. "Teachers with rights are more confident in their abilities, and we've seen this in the U.S.—states with strong tenure laws perform better than those with weak ones."

The United States is also a troubling international outlier when it comes to teachers' time demands, she observed. "TALIS shows us that teachers in this country spend many more hours per week and per year on instructional time than most other countries in the world—almost 40 percent more." The implications of that choice are clear. "U.S. teachers have less time for all the other things they need to do in order to do their job well." Planning lessons aligned to state standards and district curriculum frameworks, reviewing student work and data together with peers, engaging and connecting with students' parents or caregivers—"all this takes time," Weingarten said. "As New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Tom Friedman reported when he went to China to find out why they lead the world in student performance: 'Nothing pays off more than giving teachers time for peer review and constructive feedback.'"

TALIS reveals that half or more of U.S. teachers report never teaching jointly with other teachers, or even observing other teachers. High-achieving nations would see that as a staggering omission—one that's reinforced by high-stakes U.S. accountability systems that focus on evaluating individually—and it's shaping the profession for the worse, Weingarten warned.

"Here in the U.S., we are fighting against a culture that turns teachers into independent operators who spend most of their time isolated behind the closed doors of their individual classrooms," Weingarten said. "We must work to change that" by valuing professional and community relationships that are the "social capital" of school systems and by rallying behind accountability systems that reject a climate "dominated by the shame-and-blame approach."

And teachers need to come together around an agenda that makes them effective professionals, Weingarten said. TALIS shows that U.S. teachers participate in professional development at basically the same rate as their international peers, but the workshops, conferences, in-service trainings and other professional development they receive doesn't help them improve their teaching. "Teachers need to be given a seat at the table with principals and other administrators to decide the where, when and what of professional development." The AFT has identified several attributes of quality professional development, and "perhaps most importantly, it should be designed by teachers in cooperation with experts in the field while being job-embedded and site specific."

TALIS also offers insights into poverty and equity, the conditions that affect teaching and learning around the globe, and those gauges are flashing red in the United States, Weingarten said. "Another thing we learned from TALIS is that more than half of U.S. teachers teach kids who come to school hungry, exhausted and stressed from their lives outside the classroom—yet they lack the resources or support to help these kids get what they need to begin to focus on learning. This is the highest rate among all 34 TALIS countries. TALIS tells us that equity matters in the U.S," and it explains why school districts like Cincinnati Public Schools have adopted the community schools model, transforming buildings into hubs for vital family services.

On all the issues raised by TALIS, there are examples of effective work that the nation can build on, the AFT president told the audience. From Miami to Montgomery County, Md., teachers are learning and growing professionally thanks to peer assistance and review, a program of structured mentorship, observation and rigorous, standards-based evaluation of teachers by teachers. In Meriden, Conn., the union worked with a team of teachers and administrators to restructure the school day to allow educators to share information and strategies with their colleagues. In New York City, teachers negotiated time for parent conferences into their contract. And the 15 locals participating in the AFT's Teacher Leaders Program are empowering frontline professionals to shape, evaluate and refine the local and national education policies that govern our schools.

"As a nation, we need to learn the lessons from TALIS, that teachers need trust, time and tools to be the best they can be for every student," Weingarten said. "And we also need to understand that if we don't heed these lessons, we won't be able to attract and retain the quality teachers we need to reclaim the promise of public education in America."

[AFT media affairs, Mike Rose]