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Dr. Kathleen Mellor Headshot

Want to Know About Education Reform? Ask a Teacher

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Whatever your opinion of the No Child Left Behind legislation, now scheduled for reauthorization, it succeeded in focusing public attention on the educational disparities in our nation. By targeting the achievement gap between different subgroups of students, NCLB sent an implicit message that this gap could and should be closed. Yet, our educational system continues to fail students from diverse linguistic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Furthermore, a growing number of adults lack fundamental literacy, mathematical, or technical skills necessary for gainful employment. This is not just an economic problem, but a social injustice. Access to educational opportunity should not be a function of where, when, and to whom a child is born.

As an educator for 29 years, I know that it is critically important to give teachers the training and support they need to elevate classroom instruction for all students. The new book Teaching As Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher's Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap is designed to help new teachers in underserved schools climb the learning curve more quickly. Yet, its impact extends beyond this audience, as it highlights the centrality of effective teachers, at any point in their careers, to improving student performance, and ultimately eliminating the achievement gap. Author Steven Farr provides a compelling argument, with teachers at its heart, that we can level the playing field for students in our neediest schools.

Teaching As Leadership draws on the work of Teach For America, the national organization that recruits, trains, and supports top college graduates and professionals as teachers in urban and rural public schools. The program's underlying philosophy is that every student can learn at the highest level when under the guidance of effective teachers and has the opportunity to do so.

Farr leads Teach For America's ongoing effort to study its most successful teachers, and his book shares the lessons learned from this effort. Through ongoing observation and data-driven analysis, Teach For America has identified six strategies common to highly effective teachers -- and perhaps not surprisingly, common to successful leaders in any challenging context. These strategies form the Teaching As Leadership framework, a personal, provocative, and practical prescription for closing the achievement gap by setting audacious goals and obtaining dramatic gains in student achievement of far more than a year's growth in a year's time.

The Teaching As Leadership premise is supported by educational research and literature demonstrating that academic rigor and relevance, and relationships with students; maximization and extension of instructional time; and the appropriate use of ongoing and multiple sources of student-assessment data to inform and adjust instruction are critically important ingredients of effective instruction. Often, amid the current emphasis on accountability, some assessment instruments are neither appropriate to the population being assessed, nor used to inform instruction. In the past, assessments have been used to indentify, sort, rank, and exclude students with little scrutiny paid to educational setting or methodology. Assessments should be used only to inform instruction, targeting, on an ongoing basis, students and content areas in need of improvement. When assessments are not used appropriately to drive instruction and improvement efforts, they continue to identify, sort and rank on a larger scale. It's little wonder that the practice of determining educational quality by the overuse and inappropriate testing of students has been called into question.

Teaching is both the challenge -- and joy -- of maximizing student growth regardless of previous achievement, perceived ability, or background. Teaching as Leadership demonstrates a commitment to and professional endorsement of the power of teachers. Farr's book speaks to the moral, ethical, and economic imperative to effect improved achievement for all students, not just some. This is a must-read for anyone at any level of our education system, including those who are preparing to revise and reauthorize NCLB.

Federal mandates to implement reform measures will move us forward only if we make these measures appropriate and effective. Our students are our future. They are the leaders, parents, and policy makers of tomorrow. We must share in the responsibility for educating all of them, or we will share in the repercussions.

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