How can we get a good teacher in every classroom?

Before you dismiss this as a pipedream, read an excellent piece in today’s Wall Street Journal by Deborah Kenny, founder and CEO of Harlem Village Academies. Kenny addresses the all-important question of what it takes to get good teachers:

So far the answer has centered on accountability: standards, testing, data and evaluations. Accountability is critical. Without it, children’s lives are ruined, and as educators we should not be allowed to keep our jobs if students aren’t learning.

But accountability alone misses a more fundamental issue. If we want to elevate teacher quality in our country, we need to stop treating teachers like industrial-era workers and start treating them like professionals.

Kenny reports that Harlem Village Academies has achieved good results-including results reflected in test scores-by attracting talented people and creating a culture in which they can flourish as teachers. So what kind of culture is this?

There are three aspects of culture that attract and develop effective teachers. The first is ownership. We need to trust teachers, affording them the freedom to do their jobs. Instead of mandating curriculum and micromanaging, we need to be clear about the goals, then get out of the way.

In our academies, teachers choose their text books, work closely with principals to make important school-wide decisions, and are not overly bothered with administrative work. A culture of ownership inspires teachers with an entrepreneurial spirit to turn on a dime and solve problems quickly. (One of our tenets: “If we ever become a bureaucracy, please shoot us.”)

When a teacher has an idea, we say run with it. …

Teamwork is the second element to this culture and the third-my favorite-is a creating a “rich intellectual environment where teachers are treated as scholars and everyone is passionate about continually growing.”

One of my pet peeves (I have so many) is that at some point schools seemed to decide that kids, especially ones from lower-income homes, needed watered down texts instead of the rich experience of learning. This school sounds like it does just the opposite.

And it sounds like it could be a great place to work–and learn.