Building better systems that take account of educators’ impact on learning is complex and controversial work. Yet in Tennessee and the District of Columbia, leaders solicited input from their critics, stayed committed but flexible and delivered systems that help both successful and struggling teachers.
I’m cautious about drawing big conclusions from a two-year trend, and it’s important to track a variety of educational outcomes, such as high school graduation and college enrollment rates.
Even so, the experiences of Tennessee and D.C. suggest that children win when leaders work closely with educators to do several vital things right, at the same time, and don’t give up when the going gets tough.
As Henderson said: “When you concentrate on teacher quality, you get results. When you radically increase the level of academic rigor, you get results.”
To be clear, no one in Tennessee or the District of Columbia is declaring victory. Students in both places have a lot further to go to close achievement gaps and even to reach the level of top-performing states. But their progress shouldn’t be treated as mysterious or miraculous.
The changes America’s children need to get a better education require political courage and hard work. But in many cases the steps are surprisingly straightforward — and can be taken anywhere.