Former top teacher offers Ed Trust meeting ideas for better teaching

Ohio's worsening economy and powerful teacher unions make tough the prospect of reforming how teachers are trained, hired, paid, and fired in this state. If policymakers are serious about improving teacher quality, however, they'd do well to follow the advice of Jason Kamras. Kamras is a former Washington, D.C., middle-school teacher and National Teacher of the Year who now works as D.C. Public Schools' director of human capital strategy for teachers. Speaking to the Education Trust's 19th national conference last week, Kamras offered five keys to getting a high-quality teacher in every classroom: 

  1. A great principal in every school. Great teachers want to work for great principals who are instructional leaders first and share the passion and drive to help all kids learn.
  2. Make it easier to remove low-performing teachers. Great teachers want to work with other great teachers so the profession must become passionate about quality and not accepting mediocrity.
  3. Provide support commensurate with accountability. Start with continuous professional development in the classroom that is differentiated by need.
  4. Create new opportunities for high-performing teachers. Allow them to stay in the classroom while still taking on new roles and trying new things (think robust career ladders and lattices).
  5. Radically rethink compensation. Reward high-performing teachers with significantly more money. Kamras noted that simply paying teachers more, even a whole lot more, won't necessarily ratchet up their performance. Rewards for performance would fundamentally change the perception of the profession and thus increase the quality and quantity of the applicant pool.

Along the lines of teacher compensation, Kamras offered additional suggestions. For example, stop spending on what doesn't work, like Ph.D.s for classroom teachers. He also believes salary schedules should be restructured so that salaries for top performers go up fast and early. Kamras chided that if our nation could win two world wars, cure polio, put a man on the moon, and invent the Internet then surely we could figure out differentiated pay for teachers. He also believes retirement plans should be restructured, making them portable, flexible, and not back-loaded. Ohio should pay particular attention to this recommendation (see here).

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