U.S. education secretary Richard Riley delivers his 1999 State of Education speech in Long Beach, California.
Credit: U.S. Department of Education
Improving teacher quality is at the heart of our national effort to achieve excellence in the classroom. This comes at a time when the very structure of education is going through a profound change. With knowledge all around us, available anytime and anywhere, the role of the teacher is going to be fundamentally transformed in the twenty-first century.
In the future, schools will be more fluid, teachers will be more adaptable and flexible, and students will be more accountable as the task of learning becomes theirs. The challenge of the modern classroom is its increasing diversity and the skills that this diversity requires of teachers. This is why we need to do some new thinking when it comes to the teaching profession.
We need a dramatic overhaul of how we recruit, prepare, induct, and retain good teachers. The status quo is not good enough. And we must revamp professional development as we know it. New distance-learning models can be a powerful new tool to give teachers more opportunities to be better teachers.
Our efforts to improve education will rise or fall on the quality of our teaching force, and higher education has the defining role in preparing the next generation of teachers. I ask leaders in higher education across the nation to please make this their mission.
We need over 2 million teachers in the next ten years. We have a growing shortage of teachers in several critical fields, including math and science, and John Glenn -- in another mission for America -- is leading an outstanding commission to address this problem. The commission will report back to the nation this fall.
I believe many young people are open to becoming first-time teachers if we make much more of an effort to actively recruit them. My home state of South Carolina has a wonderful Teacher Cadet program. And North Carolina has a most successful model in its Teaching Fellows program.
To support state efforts to get the very best teachers into our nation's classrooms, we have sent Congress a $1 billion package of proposals. Raising teacher quality is at the very core of our proposed Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We seek to increase recruitment efforts, reduce out-of-field teaching, and get more certified teachers into our poorest schools.
I again ask state and local leaders to end the practice of setting standards for teachers and then ignoring those standards to simply get another warm body into the classroom. The recent Quality Counts 2000 report noted, "States play an elaborate shell game; millions of students sit down every day before instructors who do not meet the minimum requirements their states say they should have to teach in a public school."
This is not the fault of the teachers -- the system isn't working. We need to change the system.
Riley reads with a student at Beech Tree Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia, at the National Reading-Writing Partnership Program Kick-Off.
Credit: U.S. Department of Education
Elevating Teaching to a Year-Round Profession
I believe that now is the time to begin a national discussion about making teaching a year-round and better-paid profession. We can no longer get teachers on the cheap.
For the last one hundred years, American education has been defined by certain assumptions. One assumption is that the job of a teacher lasts nine months. The second assumption is that we will always have a ready supply of dedicated teachers, mostly women, who, for relatively low wages, will teach our children their lessons.
I believe both of these basic assumptions are outdated. We must define new assumptions that fit our times. The income gap between experienced teachers holding a master's degree and their counterparts in other fields with the same level of education is enormous -- over $32,000 a year.
This growing income disparity has become a fundamental roadblock to advancing American education. . . . I have come to the conclusion that we will never really improve American education until we elevate the teaching profession and come to grips with the issue of teacher compensation.
A Texas school principal may have said it best when she told me her dream. "I would like," she said, "to have my pupils in school for nine months but have my teachers working together for much longer to plan the curriculum and improve their teaching skills." She went on to say that having her teachers work together for eleven months would be ideal. I think she has it about right.
If we are asking teachers to teach to new high standards, we are asking them to do much more. I believe that making teaching a year-round profession is the future of American education. This extra time can and should be used for intensive professional development, and it certainly should be used to give more students the extra help they need in the summer months. More than a few school districts already have their teachers working ten months.
Consider this -- Connecticut pays its teachers the highest salaries in the country but also sets the most demanding criteria to become a teacher. The result: Connecticut leads the nation in reading, writing, and math scores. Is there a connection here that other states should be investigating?
If we demand more of our teachers, we need to compensate them for their effort and treat them like the professionals that they are. I believe school districts should begin moving toward making teaching a year-round profession over the course of the next five years and pay teachers accordingly for these additional months.
Here I make an important point. I am not proposing year-round schooling for all children. Decisions about school schedules are best left up to each individual school district.
We also need some new thinking about how we get more qualified teachers into fields where we consistently are coming up short. I urge local and state education leaders as well as business leaders to find some innovative approaches to this problem.
I also support the growing effort of states and school districts to create new incentives that encourage more of America's teachers to take the challenge to become National Board-certified. In California, a National Board certified teacher can earn an extra $10,000 a year, and Governor Gray Davis is now proposing an even bigger stipend.
I am well aware that school boards, state legislatures, and governors must balance their budgets and meet the demands of all of their constituents. But if I were the chairman of a school board or a sitting governor today, I would be making a forceful case that now is the right time to make teaching a year-round and better-paid profession.
A New Generation of Principals
All the work we do to improve teacher quality will fall by the wayside if we don't make an equal commitment to preparing the next generation of principals. Just as we have a growing shortage of teachers in specific fields, we have a growing shortage of principals who know how to move standards into every classroom -- principals who can motivate families and communities to be engaged in their children's schools.
A good principal is first and foremost an education leader. A good principal sets a tone, eliminates the petty rules that sap morale, and creates a set of working conditions that clearly tell teachers that they are respected as first-class professionals.
We are fortunate that there are many good principals in our schools, but we need many more of them. This is why we will be holding a Principals Leadership Summit this summer, and why we have proposed a new $40 million program to assist states in helping prepare the next generation of principals.
Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century
I continue to encourage America's higher education community to enter into a sustained dialogue with education reformers at the middle school and high school levels. The old paradigm of two distinct systems of education going their own way does not fit our modern times.
I also encourage higher-education leaders . . . to reach out to parents and students as well. Dennis Smith, the president of the University of Nebraska, recently set a wonderful example. Smith sent a letter to the parents of every eighth grader in Nebraska outlining what courses their children need to take to get ready for college.
Seven years ago, when I began the tradition of giving this speech, I reflected to my audience at Georgetown University that our love of learning and our capacity to use knowledge wisely would be the defining forces that would shape the twenty-first century.
Well, now we are here and in this new, dynamic education era, I believe we can meet the many challenges of our times if we set new expectations for our children, our schools, and our nation. We can do this together, and surely we must.
The Honorable Richard W. Riley served as U.S. Secretary of Education from 1992 to 2000. He was governor of South Carolina from 1978 to 1986 and is the grandfather of ten children.