This aspect of school reform has been lurking around the edges for some time-- the notion that once we find the super-duper teachers, we could somehow shuffle everybody around and put the supery-duperest in front of the neediest students. But though reformsters have occasionally floated the idea, the feds have been reluctant to really push it.
Now that the current administration has decided to bring that federal hammer down on this issue, you're probably wondering what they have in mind for insuring that the best teachers will be put in front of the students who have the greatest need. I'm here to tell you what some of the techniques will be.
Before Anything Else, Mild Brain Damage Required
Any program like this requires the involved parties to believe that teachers are basically interchangeable cogs in a huge machine. We will have to assume that a teacher who is a great teacher of wealthy middle school students will be equally successful with students in a poor urban setting. Or vice-versa, as you will recall that Duncan's pretty sure it's the comfy suburban kids who are actually failing. We have to assume that somebody who has a real gift for connecting with rural working class Hispanic families will be equally gifted when it comes to teaching in a high-poverty inner city setting.
And, of course, as always, we'll have to assume that teachers who are evaluated as "ineffective" didn't get that rating for any reason other than their own skills-- the students, families, resources and support of the school, administration, validity of the high stakes tests, the crippling effects of poverty-- none of those things contributed to the teacher's "success" or lack thereof.
Once everybody is on board with this version of reality, we can start shuffling teachers around.
Schools with great need and challenge often have trouble attracting top teachers, so let's throw money at them. And since an underlying problem for high needs schools is that they don't have money to throw at their problems, we'll have to use tax money from the state. Which means that wealthy school districts will fork over extra tax money to help convince the teachers at those wealthy schools to leave and go elsewhere. I don't anticipate any complaints about this at all.
Bait and Switch
Simply tell new teacher grads that they have been hired by Big Rich High School and drive them over to Poor Underfunded High School instead. With any luck, you can get some work out of them before they figure it out.
The federal government will pay for your teacher education, but you then owe them seven years of teaching at the school of their choice. As I type this, I'm thinking it has actual promise. Sure, they won't know if you're great at first, but once you've taught a year or two, they'll have an idea and if you are a really great teacher they'll ship you to one of the underfunded, collapsing schools with high populations of students who are at risk, but if you turn out to be lousy, they'll stick you in some cushy already-successful school where...oh, wait. Never mind.
Teams visit the homes of excellent teachers in the middle of the night, tie a bag over their heads and throw them into a van. Days later, the excellent teachers wake up in their new classroom.
All the teachers in the state go in a giant pool. The schools of the state will go in reverse order of success last year and draft teachers. We could also do this as a Chinese auction. Chinese auctions are fun.
All the effective teachers' names go in a giant drum, from which they are drawn for assignment. May the odds be ever in their favor.
For both the draft and the lottery, no teachers ever buy homes or settle into communities. Under these systems, states may want to offer teachers good deals on nice campers, fancy Winnebagos, or modified school buses. At last, every teacher can live like a rock star (I'm a Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem guy myself).
One Other Alternative
States could take the actions necessary to make sure that every single school had all the resources it needed, that it was fully staffed, fully funded as well as clean and safe and fully functional. States could take the actions necessary to make teaching an attractive profession with job security, great pay, and the kind of autonomy and power that makes a profession attractive to intelligent grown-ups. States could offer incentives and support for college students who pursue teaching. States could provide support and assistance for teachers, so that great teachers were free to be great and teachers struggling to find their way could become great. State and federal government could reduce the burden of dumb regulations, destructive mandates, and wasteful, punishing tests (reducing to "none" would be the best goal here). In short, states could invest the money and resources to make all schools so attractive that so many teachers want to work there that every administrator in every building in the state gets to choose from among the best and the brightest to find the very best fit for the students.
Among these alternatives I have included one that nobody in power is even remotely considering right now. Can you guess which one it is?