In his State of the Union address, President Obama made a passionate plea for young people across the country to consider a career in teaching because it would offer them a unique opportunity to "make a difference in the life of our nation."
I couldn't agree more.
My time at the Denver Public Schools taught me there is no harder, or more important, job than being a teacher. With more than 1 million teachers expected to retire over the next few years, there has never been a more critical time to bring a new army of talented teachers into the profession.
But the reality is our approach to hiring and retaining people to teach in America's classrooms is fundamentally ill-equipped to meet the demands of the 21st century. Currently, nearly 50 percent of teachers who enter the profession leave in the first five years.
All across this country, we face persistent shortages of talented professionals to teach subjects like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). We often hear about the fact that we are losing the race for mathematicians and engineers, but what is often overlooked is that we are also losing the race to produce people to teach our children to become mathematicians and engineers.
In rural communities, we still struggle to attract teachers to the classrooms. And students with disabilities and English language learners do not have enough teachers prepared to meet their unique needs.
We need to create a system of incentives that inspire people to enter and stay in the profession.
Over the last two years, I have worked with a broad coalition of education leaders on a plan to improve the way we prepare and inspire people to teach and to mobilize an army of 100,000 talented teachers to work in high-needs schools.
Under my Presidential Teacher Corps (PTC) proposal, teacher preparation programs would compete to train a diverse set of candidates to form a new teacher corps. These preparation programs, and the teachers they produce, would be held accountable for their results. Teachers would also receive the support they need to improve their craft and get results for our kids.
The PTC proposal would also provide highly-effective teachers serving in high-need schools with a new kind of portable license. It would allow them to move between high-need schools in states that have opted to participate without facing the same burdensome re-certification process they face today. It simply doesn't make sense to perpetuate a patchwork system of teacher certification that creates barriers for teachers to work in the schools where they are needed most.
Whether it is through the PTC proposal or another program, any effort to bring new teachers into the profession must focus our limited resources on high-need schools. We need to inspire a new army of teachers to work in the schools where they are needed most. And we must provide them with the support they need to become great leaders in the classroom and to educate our kids.
With Congress expected to take up the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind this year, we can start with retooling our approach to attracting, rewarding and retaining great teachers to the profession; not by imposing mandates from the top-down, but by incentivizing action and unleashing innovation at the local level that leads to better outcomes for our kids.
Ensuring all kids have access to an effective, talented teacher needs to be a national priority. We must support the men and women who will provide our children with the skills they need to ensure that this century is, once again, an American century.
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