Our National Policy Agenda

K-12 public education has increasingly come to serve as a central battleground for the nation’s most contentious disputes. Agreement, though, exists around this: The current system does not work, for teachers, for their students, or for the plethora of other stakeholders who serve or rely on schools. The system is at a pandemic-induced, but long-needed, inflection point, and the decisions we collectively make over the course of the next five years could be felt by students for generations.

We must reimagine the way schools operate, designing dynamic, sustainable teacher roles that better enable educators to serve all students, and particularly our most vulnerable. Doing so will in some cases require more rigid policy guidelines to ensure alignment with evidence-based practices, and in others will require increased flexibility, particularly in teachers’ contracts, to allow teacher leaders to innovate on the ground and then scale what works. Our National Policy Agenda—grounded in our Declaration of Teachers’ Principles and Beliefs, informed by the perspectives of thousands of teachers, and developed in close partnership with our National Teacher Leader Council—will guide our work over the next two years as we move toward this vision.

1. Align Funding Systems to Student Need

Despite sustained advocacy and some recent state-level progress, the students with the greatest needs continue to receive fewer dollars toward their education than do other students, creating inequitable access to academic, social-emotional, and extracurricular programming. K-12 education funding must increase overall, but also must be more strategically allocated by states to the districts that need it most, and by districts to the schools and students that need it most.

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2. Rethink the Teacher Role to Make it More Sustainable, Rewarding, & Dynamic

Teachers have too many responsibilities and are not paid enough; we must decrease their workload and increase pay across the board. However, this cannot come at the sacrifice of valuing and rewarding teachers who significantly impact student growth. The teaching role can be both rigorous and sustainable if we redesign it to have fewer, more specialized responsibilities aligned with teachers’ core instructional work and more competitive compensation.

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3. Recruit, Support, & Retain Teachers of Color

Despite their documented positive impact on student learning and wellbeing, teachers of color continue to be sorely underrepresented in the teaching workforce.

We must prioritize pulling policy levers that are known to boost recruitment of teachers of color—such as residency preparation models—as well as those that are known to boost their retention—such as opportunities for teacher leadership and modifications to layoff policies.

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4. Implement High-Quality, Culturally Relevant Curriculum & Aligned Professional Learning

Though experts have recognized the importance of high-quality, culturally relevant curriculum for decades, implementation of this is finally trickling down into our nation’s classrooms. However, adoption of these materials alone is not sufficient; teachers need professional learning opportunities that embed up-to-date strategies into their daily practice to train them to effectively implement them. Large districts across the country are implementing big changes in these areas, and as those changes develop, we must learn from their successes and failures to deliver more cohesive, accessible, and effective instruction to our nation’s students.

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5. Reimagine Measures of Student Learning to Better Serve Students & Teachers

Assessments act as a critical tool for gauging student learning across schools and districts, and counter to popular narratives indicating otherwise, survey research consistently finds support for them among teachers and parents. The collection of uniform data is crucial to understanding student progress; exposing gaps along racial and economic lines; and informing the flow of resources and interventions in order to promote equity. However, while the data these assessments produce is invaluable, real challenges also exist in their use. Rather than eliminating assessments, we must redesign them to better serve and fit the needs of students and educators, while also broadening the educational outcomes we value to include career readiness and social-emotional health

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6. Equip Teachers to Support Student Wellbeing with Welcoming & Inclusive Learning Environments

The pandemic created a widespread student mental health crisis, which many teachers report has led to an increase in disciplinary incidents in schools. As a result, some are calling for a roll-back of recent success in eliminating zero-tolerance discipline policies that disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students. Instead of moving backwards, we must give teachers the tools and supports they need to create inclusive classrooms and implement social-emotional programming, which ultimately leads to improved academic outcomes.

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Tell your Governor: These are the Policy Priorities of Classroom Teachers

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Align Funding Systems to Student Need

“My number one concern as an educator and as a parent is the management of district funds, because nothing else can move forward unless we know what’s happening with the purse strings and who controls them. We need those decision-makers to understand the reality that teachers face, that principals face, that students face, on a daily basis.”

– Shirley Jones-Luke, ninth grade English teacher, Boston, MA

The end of this school year will mark the largest financial dropoff in the history of US public education. After a pandemic-generated 3-year injection of $190 billion from the federal government, many districts have overextended their budgets, not adequately preparing for tax cuts, precipitous drops in student enrollment, or changes to state budgeting priorities. This fiscal cliff comes at a time when students are still reeling socially, emotionally, and academically from the pandemic’s disruption to classroom instruction. Unsurprisingly, traditionally underinvested populations of students have seen the biggest dip in academic performance. 

Experts estimate that students with disabilities, English learners, and students from low-income homes need two to three times as much funding in order to close opportunity gaps. Despite this, and though it varies considerably by state, research shows that nationwide, districts with more students of color, English learners, and low-income students receive less funding per student than districts with fewer of these students. Partially as a result of this, they’re also less likely to have access to arts education, a cornerstone of a holistic K-12 education that provides myriad benefits to students who participate in it. 

Fortunately, some districts and states have adjusted their funding formulas to support communities that have been marginalized in education budgets for decades. In Connecticut, E4E successfully pushed for state legislation that increased funding overall and amended the funding formula to better allocate funds per pupil according to student need. In New York City, the district’s Fair Student Funding Formula is being adjusted to allocate additional resources to schools with high concentrations of students with additional needs, like those living in temporary housing or in poverty and students who are English Language Learners. While per-student funding formulas for these various challenges are slowly becoming the norm, acknowledging the added needs of a school community with high concentrations of these sorts of students reflects a more nuanced understanding of underinvested populations, creating space for additional mental health professionals, parent coordinators, specialized teachers, and other resources that can uplift those communities.  

This could include advocacy to shift…

Federal policy to:

  • Adhere to the Constitution’s guarantee to an equal education for all students by significantly increasing Title I funding in order to ensure schools are funded equitably
  • Aggregate and release school level data on expenditures and highlight states and districts that are ensuring dollars are going to populations of students with the greatest need, as intended
  • Incentivize states and districts to utilize funding formulas that provide the greatest resources to students who have the greatest need and to ensure money follows the student

State and district policy to:

  • Increase funding for public education
  • Adjust funding formulas to acknowledge the added needs of certain subgroups of students and to the schools with high concentrations of high-needs students
  • Regularly and transparently report on school level expenditures in a way that makes it easy to see how dollars are distributed and ensure they are getting to and supporting students as intended
  • Ensure all schools, particularly those with high concentrations of high-needs students, receive the funding they need to support enrichment opportunities like art, physical education, and music

Teachers’ contracts to:

  • Require that the district centrally fund certain staff positions—such as social workers, community school coordinators, or counselors—in schools with particularly high-need student populations

Rethink the Teacher Role to Make it More Sustainable, Rewarding, and Quality-Driven

“Teachers are constantly asked to give up things for themselves, to ‘do it for the kids.’ Everything I do is for my students, but my time is not an infinite resource. If something is being added to my plate, something else needs to come off.”

Genelle Faulkner, high school biology teacher, Boston, MA

While the job of the teacher has always been notoriously unsustainable, the pandemic made it even more so — and more widely recognized as so — by the public. Teachers report higher rates of job-specific stress than other workers, while being paid significantly less. In fact, in a 2023 survey of teachers, 87% reported that the role of the teacher had too many responsibilities, making it difficult to be effective. As a result, teachers—and particularly teachers in high-needs schools—leave the profession at higher rates than workers in other fields do, which negatively impacts student achievement and widens opportunity gaps. 

Some have worked to address the problem of teacher stress and burnout with more mental health support, such as BY allowing teachers to take mental health days and offering free counseling services. While these are welcome efforts, they treat the symptoms of, rather than address the root cause of, high teacher stress and burnout: Teachers have too many responsibilities and are not paid enough. They are expected to sacrifice their weekends and nights to their ever-expanding list of responsibilities in a way that few other professionals are. We must both decrease workloads and increase pay; one without the other is not sufficient.

However, decreasing workload and increasing pay cannot come at the sacrifice of valuing and rewarding excellence among teachers. The teaching role can be both sustainable and quality-driven if we redesign it to have fewer, more specialized responsibilities aligned with compensation. To do this, we must explore innovative models of distributing responsibilities and leadership across teachers and other school-based staff, ensuring each role has the tools and training needed to contribute their unique skills in collaborating to support the whole child. We must increase base pay across the board so that all teachers make a living wage, but also differentiate compensation based on workload and quality. And we must identify and extend the reach of our most effective teachers, better leveraging their skills to support others in the building. Together, these changes will lead to improved teacher mental wellbeing and increased teacher efficacy, ultimately allowing teachers to in turn positively impact student learning and well-being. 

This could include advocacy to shift…

Federal policy to:

  • Invest federal funding in identifying and scaling innovative staffing models
  • Prioritize or incentivize states to use already existing competitive grant programs like the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grants and the Teacher Quality Partnership Program for innovative staffing and distributed leadership projects
  • Financially incentivize states to set a state-wide minimum teacher salary

State policy to:

  • Allow or require districts to consider performance in determining teacher salaries
  • Increase state education funding to support increased salaries and differentiated compensation
  • Set a state-wide minimum teacher salary

Teachers’ contracts to:

  • Limit the scope of what is expected of teachers, providing them time to adequately prepare for instruction and support students instead of wearing the added hats of social workers and mental health professionals
  • Create meaningful leadership pathways for educators to take on additional responsibility while remaining in the classroom at least part time
  • Create differentiated pay for educators who teach in hard to staff subject areas or schools, who take on additional responsibilities, or whose students are making the largest learning gains
  • Eliminate barriers to innovative staffing models like co-teaching 
  • Reduce number of classes taught specifically for first-year teachers

“There’s a lot of friction in the daily lives of teachers. There’s just so much in the way of our success.”

– Dan Gannon, high school social studies teacher, Westchester, New York

Recruit, Support, and Retain Teachers of Color

“As a Black man, I am one of the few faces that resemble those of my students. Just seeing me in the classroom every day sends a powerful message to them: Education is for you, too.”

– Arthur Everett, high school social studies teacher, Brooklyn, NY

Research shows that teachers of color have significant positive social-emotional and academic impacts on all students, but particularly on students of color. Despite this documented impact, teachers of color continue to be sorely underrepresented in the teaching workforce: While people of color make up more than 50% of public school students, they comprise only around 20% of teachers. 

Policymakers and education leaders have become increasingly invested in diversifying the workforce in the last decade; The Education Trust estimates that states have spent $100 million on these efforts since 2010. Recruitment-focused teacher diversity initiatives, like Grow Your Own Programs, have produced modest gains, with the national percentage of teachers of color rising from 13 to 18 percent between 1988 and 2016. However, the rapid diversification of K-12 public school students has outpaced this, so the gap between students and teachers of color has widened, rather than narrowed.

There is mounting research about what strategies can be used to attract more people of color to the teaching profession; a 2023 national survey of teachers found that residency programs, alternate pathways to licensure like those for school aides and paraprofessionals, and enhanced opportunities for leadership ranked highest among pull factors for educators of color, differing from their white peers.

Teachers of color, though, are also more likely to leave the classroom once they arrive; just 52% reported in a 2022 national survey that they were likely to spend their entire career as a classroom teacher, compared to 86% of white teachers. This indicates that while recruitment-focused initiatives are critical, the incremental progress they create could be lost if we don’t find better ways to support and retain educators of color, who sometimes differ from their white peers in terms of what measures would keep them in the classroom. Teachers of color highlight leadership and professional learning opportunities and housing financial support as mechanisms that would increase their retention.

Advocacy in the areas mentioned above will be integral in the coming years to keep educators of color in the profession, but another often overlooked measure to protect gains in teacher diversity lies in reforming teacher layoff policies. With declining urban enrollment in public schools across the country, districts may soon be forced to layoff teachers. Because educators of color are 1.5 times as likely as their white peers to be in their first 3 years of teaching, and many local teacher contracts require that teachers be laid off based on seniority, layoffs under current policy would devastate the modest, painstaking gains made in diversifying the workforce in the past few decades. 

This could include advocacy to shift…

Federal policy to:

  • Expand and increase investments in programs like the Augustus Hawkins grant program that supplement funds for teacher preparation programs at Minority Serving Institutions
  • Share best practices from states and districts that are successfully diversifying the workforce

State policy to:

  • Invest in alternate pathways to teacher licensure, like Grow Your Own programs, grants/ scholarships to license staff members working in school buildings, or apprenticeship programs
  • Require districts to take other criteria into account in addition to or instead of seniority in layoff decision-making
  • Monitor the diversity of the cohorts of teachers graduating from Teacher Prep Programs, and allocate state funding to increase their diversity

Teachers contracts to:

  • Consider non-seniority factors in layoff decision-making, such as effectiveness, ability to speak another language, or teaching in a hard-to-staff school 
  • Create or permit partnerships with teacher preparation providers to design teacher residencies, Grow Your Own models, or apprenticeship programs to support alternative pathways to teacher licensure

“I have my administrator’s certification, but I haven’t pursued becoming a principal. It’s not because I don’t think I’m capable, but because there is still more work to be done in the classroom. I shouldn’t have to choose between advancing my career as a leader, and teaching kids. There should be a way for me to do both.”

– Carlotta Pope, high school English teacher, Brooklyn, New York

Implement High-Quality, Culturally Relevant Curriculum and Aligned Professional Learning

“Just giving teachers a high-quality curriculum isn’t going to fix the problem. We need time to digest it, to internalize it, to talk about it with our colleagues, and to practice putting it into action in our classrooms.”

– Jennifer López, fifth grade teacher, Sylmar, CA

Curricular materials are having a moment in more ways than one: While educational researchers have been promoting the importance of high-quality instructional materials for decades, the 2022 podcast “Sold a Story” publicized this idea to the masses. Meanwhile, culturally relevant curriculum has been at the center of highly visible national debates, with conservative politicians banning the teaching of an accurate rendering of history in some states and introducing “Parents’ Bill of Rights” legislation as a way of eliminating cultural relevance from the classroom in the name of “parent engagement” in others. Although more research is warranted, a number of recent studies have shown that culturally relevant curriculum can actually increase student achievement, decrease absenteeism, and decrease dropout rates, particularly for students of color.

Promisingly, some large districts are heeding the growing national discussion around culturally relevant curriculum and the science of reading. Chicago Public Schools is in its second year of implementing the Skyline Curriculum, a purpose-built culturally relevant curriculum designed for and by CPS. New York City is also transforming the way its schools select curriculum, launching an initiative in May of 2023 that will commit all K-5 ELA classrooms to one of three vetted, high-quality, evidence-based curricula. If implemented properly, these initiatives will aid districts in achieving “instructional coherence” — or the effective alignment of standards, curriculum, assessments, and professional learning — a method that’s been identified by experts in the field as the next chapter of the standards-based reform movement. 

Curriculum alone, though, cannot close opportunity gaps. Educators must be able to implement the curriculum effectively, which means they must receive high-quality, sustained professional learning opportunities, including coaching and peer collaboration time, aligned to their curricular resources. Despite the importance of strong standards-aligned professional learning, current teachers report that they are not receiving it; across three years of national teacher surveys, only one-third of teachers believed they received the training necessary to effectively implement their curricular materials. So while we push to include the voices and perspectives of various identity-groups in our curricula, we must support teachers in learning how to leverage these new materials as well. 

This could include advocacy to shift…

Federal policy to:

  • Expand guidance and share best practices around the use of in high-quality culturally relevant curriculum and assessments
  • Expand grant programs to support the development of high-quality, culturally-relevant curricular tools and assessments
  • Expand Title II funding and focus to support professional learning that reduces teacher bias and expands anti-racist teaching practices

State policy to:

  • Require that curriculum adhere to certain standards and benchmarks, such as ELA curriculum aligning with up-to-date methods like the science of reading
  • Create statewide frameworks to audit and approve curricular choices to ensure they are culturally relevant

Teachers contracts to:

  • Require or allow strong alignment among professional learning, standards, curriculum, assessments, the daily work of educators, and professional learning evaluation systems
  • Allow for collaborative, school-based decision-making around professional learning within the confines of the above recommendation

Reimagine Measures of Student Learning to Better Serve Students and Teachers

“I understand how critical it is to assess student learning in order to evaluate progress across schools. I’m not against this practice, but when I have to stop in the middle of my curriculum and switch to focus on something that feels wholly separate from my lessons, it disrupts the day-to-day flow of my classroom. I need the leaders in my district to help me paint a clearer big picture that assessments fit within.”

– Mark Morrison, fourth grade teacher, Stratford, CT

The pandemic has forced a reconsideration of the country’s approach to assessments and accountability after 40 years of standards-based reform. Having a standardized source of student achievement data across districts is critical for evaluating progress, identifying struggling student subgroups, and distributing resources equitably, and yet, learning is an acutely individualized and personal experience. This challenge helps explain why, despite 90 percent of teachers reporting that students should have a summative measure of their learning, the public—and particularly teacher—perception of state tests is considered overwhelmingly negative.  

Calls to eliminate the federal requirement for annual assessments in particular grades are becoming more frequent. However, without anything to replace admittedly imperfect assessments, analyzing which schools and students are struggling and directing more resources their way would become even more challenging. The importance of effective summative learning measures is particularly poignant right now, at a time when parents across the country are underestimating their childrens’ academic gaps. Ninety-two percent of parents believe their own child is reading on grade level, despite two-thirds of kids being behind. 

Instead of eliminating testing, we must reimagine measures of student learning to work better for teachers and students. This means modifying tests, but also developing innovative forms of assessments and expanding educational outcomes we value beyond academics to include social-emotional pathways, career readiness, and other critical factors in achieving a more holistic view of student performance. Additionally, we must capitalize on the steps some districts are taking to shift to curricular materials that are backed by the science of reading, and that reflect the cultural identities of students, by aligning those materials with formative assessments in order to track which of those strategies is working. 

This could include advocacy to shift…

Federal policy to:

  • Maintain the federal requirement for annual statewide tests in reading/language arts and mathematics for all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school
  • Invest federal funds in programs that allow districts and states to innovate around assessments in order to identify and scale what works

State and district policy to:

  • Permit and fund district-level innovation around learning measures while maintaining the requirement for current state assessments
  • Modify tests in response to teacher and student feedback, including by making them shorter and more frequent, focusing more on skills and depth of understanding rather than content knowledge, and aligning them to local curricula

Teachers contracts to:

  • Clarify and commit to the core importance of using student growth data to drive decision making
  • Commit to measuring a broader set of data points, but not using them for accountability

Equip Teachers to Support Student Wellbeing with Welcoming and Inclusive Learning Environments

“Everyone uses the pandemic as a before and after, and that’s true of the needs of our students too. Our country’s entire mindset has shifted, and the way we prepare students to one day lead this country and to build relationships has to follow in that direction.”

– Dr. Winnie Williams-Hall elementary special education teacher, Chicago, IL

Concerning trends in student mental health have emerged since the wake of the pandemic, with three-quarters of schools reporting an increase in student symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma. This crisis has been particularly acute among LGBTQ+ students, 73% of whom reported experiencing anxiety in 2022, and has been exacerbated by nationwide attacks on historically marginalized students and their identities. Addressing this—as well as addressing the increased disciplinary incidents that can occur as a result of strained mental wellbeing—requires fully staffing schools with professionals who are trained and equipped to address the mental health challenges of students, and to support teachers in implementing evidence-based social-emotional programming. 

Unfortunately, some are calling for a movement toward increased exclusionary discipline policies to address this problem, rather than increased support. Simultaneously, the movement against culturally relevant education is now working to politicize social-emotional programming, making it all the more important that we double down on the efficacy of a holistic view of students as people. 

There is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies create safer schools or improved school climate, and students in schools with exclusionary environments have lower academic outcomes. Schools, parents, principals, and teachers all need to work together in building safe and inclusive schools and classroom communities that honor the rights, identities, cultures, socioemotional needs, and potential of all students, ultimately leading to improved academic outcomes.

This could include advocacy to shift…

Federal policy to:

  • Reinstate guidance to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline practices specifically for students of color and LGBTQ+ students, similar to how it did so for students with disabilities
  • Highlight the significant mental health needs in schools and share best practices around district-led sustainable partnerships to support student mental health
  • Sustain federal funding for counselors and other mental health providers in a way that will increase access in high-needs schools
  • Aggregate data on indicators of school climate, including suspension and expulsion, and disaggregate this data to be able to identify equity gaps along lines of race and identity

State policy to:

  • Incentivize schools and districts to adopt non-punitive approaches, such as restorative justice, and eliminate the use of suspension and expulsion in early childhood education
  • Hire more mental health providers and place these providers in our highest needs schools rather than evenly across a district or state
  • Support teacher development by expanding trainings in areas that promote positive school culture
  • Hold schools accountable by disaggregating suspension and school climate data in school quality report cards

Teachers contracts to:

  • Require the implementation of a culturally responsive, multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) in each school
  • Require the elimination or curtailment of suspensions and/or expulsions for non-violent offenses and for young students