Lowell Milken: Speeches


Strategies to Recruit, Reward and Retain Teachers

July 17, 2005

Lowell Milken
Milken Family Foundation

It is a pleasure to be here today and participate in a discussion about teacher quality, a subject that has been of great interest to me and to our work at the Milken Family Foundation for more than two decades.

In business, the most important lesson I have learned is that there is one currency that always plays the key role in forming value, and that is human capital—the knowledge, skills and experiences of people. In K-12 education, the same principle applies. We know from research that aside from home and family, the single most important factor driving student performance is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. The difference between an effective and ineffective teacher can be a full grade level of student achievement in a single year.

Now based on these facts, you would think that every effort would be made within the K-12 system to implement a structure that would attract large numbers of talented people to teaching, and then create an environment in which they would thrive. Sadly, however, this is not the case.

The fact is that none of the hundreds of costly school-reform efforts over the past decades have had the scope, force and focus to attract high-caliber talent to the teaching profession, and then reward and motivate the talent to stay. That is a primary reason why, more than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, well over 50 percent of all African-American and Hispanic fourth-grade students cannot read and barely one-third of fourth-, eighth- and twelfth-grade students in our nation reach NAEP proficiency levels in reading or math.

This present state of affairs can change. I say this because over the past two decades, I have had the good fortune to interact with more than 2,000 exemplary educators of the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Awards, as well as hundreds of other outstanding teachers. Our work with these educators confirms that we can provide children with the high-quality teachers they need and deserve, provided we commit ourselves to:

  • Teacher quality strategies that provide powerful opportunities for career advancement, professional growth and competitive compensation; and
  • We ensure that these strategies address all of the key considerations for successful school reform; namely, a human capital focus, comprehensive in scope, based on sound research, and with effective measures for evaluation, continuity and sustainability.

This is precisely what we seek to accomplish with the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), a comprehensive school reform to attract, develop, motivate and retain the best talent to the American teaching profession. TAP is achieving excellent results because it combines four key elements:

The first element, Multiple Career Paths, provides a career continuum for teachers, with compensation commensurate with increasing qualifications, roles and responsibilities as teachers move up the ranks. Both master and mentor teachers, the two highest levels on the continuum, earn meaningful additional pay.

The second element, Ongoing Applied Professional Growth, restructures the school schedule so teachers can meet regularly during the school day to focus on improving instruction. TAP focuses on the necessary elements of good instructional practices which can be used with a variety of curriculum and instructional philosophies. Master and mentor teachers lead a professional growth program that encompasses cluster groups—grade- or subject-alike, teacher evaluations, pre- and post-conference meetings, and individual coaching based on individual teacher needs as identified by analyzing their classroom performance and student data. Over a school year, more than 160 hours are spent on professional development.

The third element, Instructionally Focused Accountability, provides a comprehensive system for multiple evaluations of teachers, based on clearly defined instructional standards and rubrics conducted several times during the year by trained and certified master and mentor teachers, and principals.

And the fourth element, Performance-Based Compensation, provides for performance pay for instructional expertise, as measured by classroom observation and school-wide and individual classroom student achievement growth.

The ultimate goal of the Teacher Advancement Program is clearly increased student achievement. Though only in its early years, TAP schools are outperforming control group schools in terms of student performance in a meaningful way. We are also experiencing improvements in the characteristics of teacher applicants to TAP schools, in teacher retention rates, and in high levels of teacher satisfaction and collegiality. And importantly, we have seen talented teachers moving from more affluent schools to assume the roles of master and mentor teachers at high-need schools.

If we are to reach the high achievement levels set by No Child Left Behind for every student, the time is now for education leaders to take bold action. We know what works. But it is only through your leadership that the right strategies will be implemented to assure that every student in every school in America is guided and taught by the kind of professional—the kind of person—worthy of the name teacher.