<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="https://newamericadotorg-static.s3.amazonaws.com/static/css/newamericadotorg.min.css"></link>

Here’s One Way to Appreciate Teachers: Understand What We’re Asking Them to Teach

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and everywhere you turn there are stories about our favorite educators who had a positive impact on our lives. While #TeacherAppreciationWeek and #ThankATeacher are trending on twitter, students, parents, and schools are also showing teachers they care with thank you cards, flowers, and other treats. 

It’s wonderful to show teachers we appreciate them in these ways. But it is even more meaningful to continue that appreciation beyond Teacher Appreciation Week by ensuring that the schools in which teachers work can effectively support them every day, as they work to prepare all of their students for college and career.

And much evidence points that there is still much to do on this front: just last week, RAND Corporation released a report that found the majority of school leaders are not familiar with the approaches or content that teachers need to effectively prepare students for their lives after graduation. School Supports for Teachers’ Implementation of State Standards: Findings from the American School Leader Panel, a new report by RAND Corporation’s Julia H. Kaufman and Tiffany Tsai, adds to recent literature on how teachers are shifting their instruction to meet more rigorous college- and career-ready standards. The study looks at how much school leaders know about how well-available curricula meet those standards, as well as their knowledge about the instructional shifts called for in these academic standards. The paper looks to answer these questions using data from the October 2016 survey of the American School Leader Panel (ASLP)—the survey was sent out to 1,349 school leaders and received 422 responses, a completion rate of about 31 percent.

In the report, Kaufman and Tsai note three key findings: (1) commonly required and recommended instructional materials for ELA and math are not always aligned with state standards; (2) the majority of school leaders could not identify reading approaches aligned with state standards; and (3) school leaders had particular difficulty with identifying standards-aligned mathematics topics at higher grade levels in their schools. These findings have implications for the level of support and feedback that principals can provide to teachers through observations and evaluations, as well as the kinds of professional development that principals promote for their teachers.

In response to these findings, RAND Corporation recommends that states, local education agencies (LEAs), and others who support school leaders can and should play a role in improving school leaders' knowledge on state standards through more training and support to better understand content and approaches aligned with those standards. They also recommend that states, as well as LEAs and school leaders, should assess whether materials being required or recommended in school districts are closely aligned with state standards, and in order to encourage use of standards-aligned instructional materials, states should provide clear information about the materials that are most closely aligned with their standards, as well as materials that are less well-aligned.

Improving school leaders’ knowledge of state standards and standards-aligned instructional approaches is also key to helping school leaders meet standards and expectations set in principal evaluation and support systems. Kaufman and Tsai specifically note that one of the “model” Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) focuses on “curriculum, instruction, and assessments” and notes that effective leaders “implement coherent systems of curriculum, instruction, and assessment . . . that align with academic standards.” While not every state has adopted the PSEL standards for use in their evaluation systems, most states do evaluate principals based on standards that include activities around principals being responsible for curriculum and instruction. States are also holding principals accountable for observing teachers’ practice and giving them feedback on their instruction, emphasizing the need for principals to be knowledgeable of state standards and standards-aligned instructional materials and approaches for evaluating teachers effectively.

When it comes to curriculum and instructional materials, it’s clear that more needs to be done to help school leaders identify standards-aligned content. Fortunately, states have continued to make progress on this front. New America will be releasing a report later this month with the Council of Chief State School Officers—one of the co-developers of the PSEL standards—looking at how states are providing greater information and access to high-quality, standards-aligned curriculum. The majority of states are now providing information about the quality of curricula in terms of their alignment to academic standards—many states have also worked to create more equitable access to content through the use of open educational resources, or OER.   

While the vast majority of us had wonderful teachers in our lives who helped us realize our full potential, teachers cannot be expected to take on this critical work alone. If we truly want to show our appreciation for teachers, we need to ensure that they have access to well-equipped school leaders and high-quality curriculum and instructional materials so that they can be successful in their classrooms.