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GREAT Act Q&A

Today, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) will introduce a bill, co-sponsored by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) to support the creation and expansion of teacher and principal training academies. This legislation, titled the Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals Act (GREAT Act), represents a bold, innovative approach to improving the quality of teacher and leader training. And in the spirit of being bold, instead of the conventional blog-post-as-essay format, here’s an explanation of the GREAT Act via a hypothetical Q&A session:

What exactly is a teacher or principal training academy?

The programs of these academies are defined by three primary characteristics that set them apart from the way a lot of training happens now. First, they are rigorously selective in admitting people into their programs who have strong potential to become excellent teachers. Second, these academies will provide teacher or principal candidates with hands-on, clinical training to prepare them to be successful from their first day in their classroom or leading a school – goodbye super steep learning curve on the backs of kids! Finally, a candidate can graduate from a training academy only when she or he has demonstrated the ability to improve student academic achievement, as this is the ultimate outcome we seek.

Anything else?

They also must prepare teachers and principals to serve in high needs areas (including rural and Native American areas), and hard-to-staff subjects.

Why do we need these academies?

Because teachers and principals are the biggest school-related factors affecting a student’s academic achievement. All too often, we thrust beginning teachers into the classroom without adequately preparing them. That hurts kids. It also causes many teachers to quit from frustration and more to not realize their true potential as great teachers. The more we do to solve this problem, the better we can educate kids—and the closer we come to making teaching the profession it should be, on par with law, medicine or architecture.

So how will federal legislation help create or expand these academies?

The GREAT Act is a state-based competitive grant program, and it’s up to each state whether to apply. A state that wins a grant will use funds to (a) create state authorizers to approve and oversee these academies, and (b) support the creation and expansion of the academies themselves. Because this is an effort that strives to create the space for innovation, states and state authorizers will also have to agree to not – repeat, not – regulate the “inputs” that these programs use to train candidates.

What counts as an “input”?

At present, there are certain areas where states often regulate teacher training programs, even though the regulation may have little to no bearing on student achievement outcomes. This can create an unnecessary and stifling bureaucracy that no one likes. For example, this legislation asks states to remove any requirement that training academies build, say, a physical library before they open their doors to train teachers or principals. Likewise, these academies will train teachers and principals through clinical training with great mentor teachers who have proven they can teach or lead in the classroom – and these already-great educators won’t be required to obtain an advanced degree.

Are there any programs like this in existence already?

Absolutely, and in fact, we here at NewSchools have had the opportunity to work directly with a number of them. Programs such as Relay School of Education, The New Teacher Project, New Leaders for New Schools, Urban Teacher Center, and Teach For America (to name only a few) are examples of the sort of programs that can apply in winning states– and the legislation makes it a priority to fund successful programs that are already training great teacher and leaders. But we believe new entrepreneurs will be attracted and encouraged by this bill and will start new ventures to help transform our methods of pre-service training. The ones that exist are great, yet lots more is left to learn about how to consistently produce great educators at scale.

But if these programs exist already, what’s the advantage of becoming an academy?

There are a couple of reasons. In terms of direct benefit, federal funds would help support the startup or expansion of these programs. This funding will come in the form of direct subgrants from participating states, and also through making teacher and principal candidates eligible for AmeriCorps funding. In addition, not only will these programs be free of unnecessary, input-based regulations, but a candidate who graduates from a training academy, and who therefore has proven his or her ability to improve student achievement, will be entitled to the same benefits the state provides to teachers and principals who have received a master’s degree. Finally, the willingness to be held accountable for student achievement sends an important signal to potential candidates and to the broader field of teacher and principal training, and will help to deepen the professionalization of the practice that is critical to improving our entire education system.

Who’s supporting this idea?

We’re thrilled not just at the number of supporters this legislation has garnered, but at the fact that they come from so many different parts of the education and policy landscape. So far, 50 influential organizations and individuals have signed on, spanning higher education, philanthropy, school districts, policy, and top-performing schools, among others. Among the surprising range of supporters are major school district leaders; some of the strongest schools for low-income children; the United Negro College Fund; the Center for American Progress and the Education Trust. See a full list of supporters here.

So what happens next?

The introduction of this legislation completes only the first stage of the process. The next stage involves conversations to have teacher and principal academies folded into legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We will also be actively seeking sponsors in the House of Representatives to sponsor companion legislation in that chamber. Then, the Department of Education will need to flesh out the details of administering the program.

You know what, this is kind of a cool idea. So what can I do to help?

If you are an individual who supports the GREAT Act, please email me at briley@newschools.org to have your name added to our list of supporters, or call or email your Senator to offer your support. If you represent an organization, we would love to add your name to the letter of support to demonstrate the broad support for the ideas embodied in the bill. Feel free to share this summary of the bill with anyone who might be interested. And stay tuned to this blog, the NewSchools twitter feed (@nsvf), and my own twitter feed (@benjaminjriley) for updates!

11 Responses to “GREAT Act Q&A”

  1. Karyl Petit says:

    I feel that many teachers start out with quality educational instruction that focuses on results. Students of such programs frequently visit my classroom and pick my brain for ideas. I see no need to recreate the wheel.
    I would like to see more focus on the art of classroom instruction. Good classroom teachers can go a long way to meeting the needs of all kids. However, it is an exhausting, lonely and often thankless endeavor.

  2. GA Krohnfeldt says:

    I am absolutely in favor of legislation that changes the way we prepare educators and administrators. I have worked, often with marked success, in at-risk schools over the past 17 years and currently serve as an instructional coach / teacher mentor in the largest district in Colorado. I know the power of data driven decision making in the classroom, adequate progress monitoring of student achievement in a timely manner, and the importance of innovative / comprehensive lesson planning in order to ensure high levels of student engagement and tighter focus on learning outcomes. But I would also like to highlight the fact that while improved professionals in the system would be a necessary ingredient for positive change, we must also look to our own habits as a society and take greater care in the way we prepare our students for higher level learning experiences. Ever increasing numbers of digital age students have not only become physically inactive and obese due to an average of 8 to 12 hours per day engulfed in isolating, 21st century technological pursuits, but they have become neurologically challenged as well. There is ample neuro research, related to education, that suggests that digital age students are being “wired” differently from the cradle due to over exposure to “screen time” and exclusion of more tradional, beneficial family experiences. There are national downward trends in academic performance where higher level thinking skills are required, practical application of learned information / skills is expected, and where academic stamina for learning / retention / assessment is demanded. While I don’t foresee 21st century families (parents included) giving up their 21st century technology addictions / distractions, I firmly believe that if we are going to be successful in improving the education of our citizens we need to address these physical / neurological issues. While 21st century technology can be a blessing in many respects, no amount of money, change in educator preparation, change in leadership style, or nuance in academic setting will be successful unless we also address these more profound physical, sociological, and neurological issues. This is my passion and I am so grateful to see others that are as passionate about positive change!

  3. Haydee Ayi-Bonte says:

    At first read through, I am skeptical of this proposal.

    What we need to do is FIX the way teachers are trained in the schools of education, not to create new programs. In addition, we need to create real and VIABLE ways for talented and professional adults to enter the teaching profession without having to spend too much time or money and without having to re-attend university if they already hold one or more degrees. Lastly, and most importantly, we need to work as a nation to ELEVATE the STATUS of the teaching profession and to treat successful educators as professionals by making sure they are granted proper respect (such as being considered the experts from who we should take the opinions on education decisions) and commensurate and professional salaries. This is the way to get and retain quality teachers and administrators that will make a difference for the students.

    I would rather see a proposal that works with what we already have rather than a new initiative that will require large overhead and investment to enact.

    I look forward to the debate on this proposal as the intent is good and urgent.

  4. Dolores Vigil says:

    Senator Bennett,
    It sounds good I would like to sit down with you and others and discuss our educational problems. I have worked in and around schools in various capacities for the past 46 years. I recently retired but still work as a substitute teacher. Write if I can be of help.
    Dolores Vigil, 1640 Lenmar Dr. C-205, Colorado Springs, CO

  5. Ena Wason says:

    Thank you, each and every one of you in seeking for ways to improve upon the sorrowful education results as manifested in our nations’s children of today. That being said, I want to see a program that would train parents to become more active in their childrens work. I would like for every parent to be forced, if necessary, to become knowledgeable about the role a good diet has to play in order for a child to learn. I am all for a nourishing morning meal to be served at schools and I will be more than willing to have my taxes raised to help pay for that. In my long life (in my 80s now) I have seen children of all economic levels neglected in this respect. In parts of China today, children are being taken to boarding
    schools while as young as five. (Read Peter Hessler’s trilogy: River Road, Oracle Bones, and Country Driving.They are fed, taught, exercised for 10 hours a day six days a week. This is the kind of system I find unthinkable, however, these will become the young adults our children will be competing with. We MUST recognize the fact that the planet is already enormously overcrowded and encourage the prevention of unwanted pregnancies. Teachers should be trained and paid like medical doctors . No nation can remain strong, regardless of how many atomic war heads it has, unless it has well educated and healthy people. Again, thank you.

  6. John Buck says:

    This is an interesting idea. I agree that our teachers need our support and helping them reach thier best potential is a great concept. My concern is that this will only benefit teachers in higher income areas where they already have better tools with which to excel. What does this bill do to help level the playing field for teachers in poorer districts?

  7. Patricia Collins says:

    I am disappointed in this proposed bill. It merely means more money for academic institutions. There are already MAT programs and undergrad programs with education courses–nearly all of them have “hands on” student-teacher teaching experiences. Apparently this bill concludes that none of the existing academic programs are successful and yet another academic program will be. There is very little data on what makes a good teacher. More academic requirements are highly unlikely to change anything. In fact, innovative teaching and teacher training programs are usually a contradiction in terms. This bill panders to the “scapegoat teachers” propaganda rather than facing the obvious fact that more taxes are needed to provide a better education. Here is the obvious: city schools have 40-45 students in high school science classes without enough chairs, desks, lab stations or any running water. Art and music are rare. Special Ed. is burdened with paperwork and viewed as a place to cut teachers or spread them so thin they can’t be effective. Computers are non-existent in most City schools. Teacher evaluation (if done at all) is often done by inept, incompetent and overworked administrators. Innovative teachers are seen as a disruptive challenge to the status quo. Teachers who fight for supplies, for support, and for their students are seen as trouble-makers. Why not gather stories from teachers and principals about what’s needed in the schools. You will hear the horror stories and they don’t boil down to more education courses and more practice student teaching. Requiring payment for more education courses while politicians support cutting teacher salaries and benefits will absolutely not attract people into the teaching profession–let alone “highly qualified” people (however that is determined). No Child Left Behind was a joke–this bill is more of the same–a pretend solution.
    Can’t you come up with something more innovative??

  8. Tom Keenan says:

    There is a cost to this in a time when bigger government and more spending is a direction we should not be traveling. A retired educator but still very active in education I find this to be very concerning. This Grant I would imagine is being handled by the Department of Education is of concern. It is very likely to become a political award to those with the largest Union percentage. Let’s be sure we all understand the Department of Education would serve the educational institutions if the $77 Billion were to be divided between all states equal to the average number of students with in the state for the past 3 years. Then close the doors of this monster. Education will improve proportionately the closer control is given to local school boards.

  9. Caitilin Weber says:

    Will teachers who fulfill the requirements of these academies be paid at the level of their education?

  10. Benjamin Riley says:

    It’s sentiments like that, Chris, that inspire us to make sure we get this legislation passed! Congratulations on your retirement and passing the teaching torch to your daughter!

  11. Chris Mayes says:

    A wonderful act to start teachers out with quality. As a newly retired teacher, I am thrilled and hope my daughter will be able to take advantage of such a terrific program.