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Educator Excellence Task Force Calls for “Greatness by Design”

September 10, 2012

In Sacramento today, the work of fifty educational leaders came to fruition with the release of “Greatness by Design: Supporting Outstanding Teaching to Sustain a Golden State.”  State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Torlakson convened the task force this past spring, co-chaired by Professor Linda Darling-Hammond* and Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Chris Steinhauser.

Four members of Accomplished California Teachers (see photo below) were among the contributors to this report, which lays out specific ways for California to improve the training, development, evaluation and promotion of excellent teaching statewide.

Superintendent Torlakson, who is a former high school teacher and still a community college instructor, said of the task force and report, “This is the most comprehensive look our state has taken at California’s most important profession—teaching—in a generation.”  The task force membership included teachers, administrators, legislators, policy researchers and advocates, union leaders, and experts in teacher preparation and professional development.  Their final product is a comprehensive report, nearly 100 pages long and heavy with citations of strong research in various aspects of teacher training and development.  It’s also important that recent work by teachers is cited in the report, including the Bay Area New Millennium Initiative and the upcoming report from Accomplished California Teachers.  By relying in part on the insights of National Board Certified Teachers and other teacher leaders, the Educator Excellence Task Force has helped ensure that its recommendations are grounded in practice and aimed at changes that will make a meaningful difference for teachers.

press conference

Educator Excellence Task Force press conference at the CA Dept. of Education, September 10, 2012. From left to right, Tom Torlakson, Linda Darling-Hammond, Martha Infante, Mary Vixie Sandy, Dean Vogel, David Gomez, Chris Steinhauser. (photo by Craig Cheslog)

At today’s press event announcing the report’s release, Task Force teachers were ably represented by ACT member and National Board Certified Teacher Martha Infante.  She co-chaired the Task Force working group on Educator Evaluation, and delivered these remarks at today’s event:

Martha Infante

Martha Infante at the CDE podium, 9/10/12.

As a member of the Educator Excellence Task Force I am thrilled to have worked on a team that has produced a vision for what a true investment in public education can and should look like. From teacher preparation to induction to evaluation and leadership development, this plan provides a cohesive and experienced based viewpoint that will result in returning California to its rightful place as leader in best educational practices in our country.

As an experienced classroom teacher of 17 years in public schools, this plan acknowledges the value of my experience, provides avenues of growth for my colleagues and myself, and recognizes that true expertise in teaching arises from the teachers themselves. This plan has pathways and career opportunities for teachers in all stages of their careers and provides meaningful guidelines for evaluating teachers in a way that will lead to improved teaching practices and increased student achievement.

The acknowledgement that schools are communities of collaboration is important because only by working together with students and parents and with other teachers can we strengthen our teaching practice. The expertise is in the building. It is a new day for teachers, and we have a new role to play. By becoming a part of Peer Assistance and Review panels and by increasing our leadership roles in the school system we take ownership of the status of our profession. We will strengthen it and we will improve it.

To me, as a career teacher, I am most hopeful about the firm commitment to recruiting and retaining valuable teachers and assuring they are present in every school community, including the high poverty, economically impacted community I work in, South Central Los Angeles. For too many years, impacted neighborhoods have struggled to provide safeguards for novice teachers who then quickly leave the profession or move to more stable schools. My students deserve highly effective teachers just like all students do, and equitable distribution of experienced teachers will help accomplish this.

ACT member Larry Ferlazzo sent these comments about his work with the Task Force: “It was an honor to serve on the task force with such an exceptional group of educators.  It was nice to be asked for ideas by policymakers instead of what seems to be happening in so many other parts of the U.S. where educators are being told what to do without any input.   I feel I learned from my colleagues more than I actually contributed to the report, and it’s clear to me that our final product can serve as important guide — not only to the future of education here in California, but to the future of public education in the country.”

In my first reading of the report, I share Larry’s optimism.  The report draws upon a solid body of research and international comparisons, hard data and peer reviewed studies, and interdisciplinary evidence of best practices in human resources managment, not just education.  The report offers targeted and specific recommendations for actions and policy changes that would elevate the quality of the state’s teacher workforce.  Later this week I’ll review some of the key recommendations and best quotes from the report.  For now, here’s a sense of what it’s all about:

The critical need for investments in teacher and principal learning has been made clear over and over again in efforts aimed at educational change. Those who have worked to improve schools have found that every aspect of school reform – the creation of more challenging curriculum, the use of more thoughtful assessments, the invention of new model schools and programs – depends on highly-skilled educators who are well supported in healthy school organizations. In the final analysis, there are no policies that can improve schools if the people in them are not armed with the knowledge and skills they need. (p. 7)

ACT members in EETF

ACT members on the Educator Excellence Task Force (l-r): Larry Ferlazzo, Martha Infante, Tara Kini, Kelly Kovacic

* Disclosure: Linda Darling-Hammond is the faculty sponsor of Accomplished Californa Teachers, which is a project of the National Board Resource Center within the Stanford School of Education.

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