The R-E-S-P-E-C-T Project
Tucked away in President Obama’s $3.8 trillion federal budget was a $5 billion competitive grant program aimed at elevating the teaching profession to its rightful status – which could have significant and long-lasting effects on teacher quality throughout the United States.
The fund, called the RESPECT Project (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching), is modeled after Race to the Top. In order to compete, states and districts will have to collaborate with a range of stakeholders to address sticky issues, including:
- Overhauling educator preparation programs by increasing selectivity;
- Creating career ladders for educators;
- Providing extra funds for those who choose to work in tough environments;
- Enhancing professional development;
- Revamping tenure to require demonstrated effectiveness; and
- Restructuring teacher salaries to be more competitive with other professions.
These ideas are nothing new to those following education reform efforts in Delaware where stakeholders have long advocated for these changes. And while Race to the Top laid the necessary groundwork, the lift ahead will be difficult. First, we must overcome the inevitable apprehension to another competitive program, especially while we are almost halfway through implementing our Race to the Top reforms and just beginning our Early Learning Challenge – Race to the Top plan. I would urge those expressing fatigue to recognize the incredible opportunity to reimagine the profession and craft a vision for our state moving forward. Second, the range and impact among various stakeholders involved is different and more complex than Race to the Top. In this program, higher education, local education associations, and various professional development providers (among many others) will be required to not just step up and sign the dotted line, but assume responsibility to craft and implement a plan to move forward with aggressive efforts, which will signify that it’s no longer business as usual in our districts and schools.
It’s encouraging to see the federal government embrace the role of states as laboratories of innovation. More importantly, though, as a former teacher with many friends still working in the trenches, many of which could have packed up and left by now, I’m heartened to see them get the recognition they deserve. By providing states the incentive, teachers will be able to come together and retool the profession to be more capable of competing with schools of law and medicine for top talent.
And while it’s safe to assume that the RESPECT Project is dead on arrival in Congress, it’s wise to infer that this represents a shifting blueprint for the federal role in education in the future, regardless of political affiliation.