International educators address the 'trained teacher gap'

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AFT Executive Vice President Francine LawrenceAFT executive vice president Francine Lawrence at the UN Education Summit on Sept. 25 with former UK prime minister Gordon Brown.

AFT executive vice president Francine Lawrence welcomed international leaders to the launch of "Every Child Needs a Teacher: Closing the Trained Teacher Gap," Sept. 25. The report, from the Global Campaign for Education and Education International, outlines the pressing need for well-prepared teachers as well as policies to recruit, train and support them so that students of every nation get the education they deserve.

Hosted by the AFT in New York City, the event featured speakers including Gordon Brown, former British prime minister; Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO; Susan Hopgood, Education International president; and Camilla Croso, Global Campaign for Education president.

Underscoring the concept that early childhood care and education are human rights with "huge and lasting impact," the report lays out the stark facts: Children will continue to miss out unless there is a "massive expansion" in the number of available, trained teachers. According to UNESCO, 132 million children do not attend primary and lower secondary school (middle school); up to 75 percent of the children in low-income countries don't even learn to read and write. The primary reason: lack of well-trained, well-supported teachers. UNESCO estimates that 1.7 million additional teachers are needed to ensure universal primary education by 2015.

"Having a quality teacher in the classroom is the single biggest factor in ensuring that every child in the world can realize his or her right to a quality education," Lawrence told the gathering. But, she continued, even when children do have a teacher, that person is often trained poorly, or not at all. "The reliance in some countries on unqualified and untrained teachers with short-term contracts is a major problem," she said. "Putting 100 children in a room with an adult labeled 'a teacher' is not delivering a quality education." (This is a common practice in seven African countries.)

AFT Executive Vice President Francine Lawrence

Lawrence laid out the AFT's quality agenda for good teaching: selective recruitment, high-quality preparation, mentoring and peer review, professional development, purposeful evaluation, and parent and community support. She urged policymakers to ensure teachers have the "tools, time and trust" they need to serve their students—tools like curricula, materials and knowledge; time to confer with colleagues, analyze assessments and adapt new instructional strategies; and trust from administrators to teach with new, more effective strategies.

Successful education systems in places like Finland, Japan and Singapore have taught us what works: thoughtful, improvement-oriented teacher evaluations that are not chained to test scores; continuing professional development and peer support; respect; and reasonable compensation. In these successful systems, Lawrence noted, unions are often full collaborative partners, "not just at the table, but leaders at the table." The private enterprise approach to education, with its profit-driven premise, discounts much of this proven formula for success and, said Lawrence, saving money up front with "bargain-basement policies" will be costly in the long run.

"We know what works," said Lawrence. "By putting that knowledge into action, we can improve the quality of teaching, the lives of our children and the lives of our nations." [Virginia Myers/photos by Miller Photography]

September 27, 2012