Superintendent Jerry D. Weast was invited to participate in a forum on April 5 called “Putting Race on the Table: Quality Instruction as a Tool for Equity,” held by the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. The forum, the third in a series, addressed ways to narrow the gap in student achievement by race, ethnicity, and economic status, and focused on the critical role of the teacher in student success. Dr. Weast was part of a local response panel that examined the elements of teacher quality.
School systems need to make a commitment to professional development by providing teachers with the skills and knowledge, as well as the supports, such as common planning time and school-based coaches, that they need to be effective, Weast said. Currently, across the country, districts spend only one cent on the dollar for teacher development.
Dr. Weast also expressed the need to nurture innovation, creativity, and flexibility in teaching, as education throughout the nation moves to a more standards-based curriculum. Time is another obstacle that needs to be tackled, he said. With increasing accountability requirements, it is important to protect teachers’ time by giving them the tools and structures to do their jobs more efficiently.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), in partnership with its employee unions, has made teacher quality a centerpiece of its strategic plan. The development of the MCPS Professional Growth System has been a key to improving teacher quality by providing educational opportunities, mentoring, coaching, and a peer review process.
Partnerships with local universities have made it easier for teachers to improve their skills and become highly qualified in high need content areas such as mathematics and special education. Special efforts have been made to prepare teachers of students learning English (ESOL) through the use of master teacher trainers and training DVDs.
Highly qualified teachers are present equally throughout the school system. In both the high poverty and the most affluent schools in Montgomery County, 91 percent of elementary school classes are taught by highly qualified teachers. In the 2005-2006 school year, 13 percent of teachers in high poverty schools were new hires, comparable to 11 percent in the more affluent areas.
More information on the Professional Growth System is available on the MCPS Web site.