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Retaining Teacher Talent

Report 3. Convergence and Contradictions in Teachers’ Perceptions of Policy Reform Ideas


The policy vortex referenced at the beginning of this report has in the last year focused on teacher evaluation and teacher preparation as well as alternative ways to compensate and reward teachers. These reform ideas are not the most popular from teachers’ perspectives. For example, the widely publicized Race to the Top competition, increases in funding for the Teacher Incentive Fund program, and discussions regarding the next reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act do not emphasize the policy options that seem most popular to teachers, namely class size reduction and addressing student discipline. This disconnect suggests that teachers’ voices do not have a strong influence on the policy agenda, which may be problematic when it comes to its implementation. How teachers make sense of top-down policy determines whether they will embrace or resist change (Gold, 2002; Louis, Febey, & Schroeder, 2005). Policymakers who want to improve teacher effectiveness seek to hold teachers accountable for their practice as well as encourage improved practice through incentives and opportunities to learn. The incentives that cause change in teacher behavior will ultimately determine the success of these policies. Taking teachers’ advice on what will improve their effectiveness, or working hard to communicate with teachers about how their policies will improve student learning, or both, will likely give these reforms the best chance of success.

Some newly funded initiatives seek to remediate this disconnect between teachers’ and policymakers’ priorities by increasing teachers’ participation in the national policy conversation. For example, Teach Plus, based in Boston and now Indianapolis, supports the retention of highly effective urban teachers who have between three and 10 years of experience by giving them access to research and experts in education policy as well as venues in which to advocate for change. A group of Teach Plus teachers recently drafted a policy proposal, which argues, based on the research, that implementing a cohort staffing model, rigorous selection criteria, and differentiated pay; providing opportunities for career growth based in the classroom; and dramatically changing urban school culture will vastly improve teacher effectiveness for all students (Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, & Teach Plus, 2009). As another example, the Center for Teacher Quality hosts the Teacher Leader Network Forum.3 As part of this work, a group of 12 accomplished teachers, collectively called TeacherSolutions 2030, are writing a book describing what the teaching profession could look like in the year 2030 if policymakers begin to make changes today.

Finally, in addition to the importance of engaging teachers in education reform, this report highlights the continued lack of solid, replicated empirical evidence on which to base policy decisions. This dearth of evidence remains a stubborn hindrance to effective policymaking and ensures that the debate will continue. Grounding this debate with the voices of experience and evidence continues to be of critical importance.


3 For more information about the Teacher Leader Network Forum, see

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