School reform is a topic on many people’s minds today, and the air is full of advice and recommendations. Unlike many policy areas, the vast majority of people have strongly held opinions, mostly arising from their own personal experiences in school. As a result, much of policy making involves walking a line between research findings and popular views. Unfortunately, these popular views frequently are not the best guide for decision making. This discussion begins with some evidence about the importance of teacher quality and moves to ideas about how the quality of teachers can be improved. Central to all of the discussion is the relationship between incentives and accountability. In simplest terms, if the objective is to improve student performance, student performance should be the focal point of policy. From a policy perspective, although the proper role for different levels of government has been controversial, I believe that there are important things to be done by the federal government. These things are, nonetheless, quite different from both the current activities and many of the things that are being discussed.
[reprinted in Lewis C. Solmon and Tamara W. Schiff (ed.), Talented Teachers: The Essential Force for Improving Student Achievement (Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing, 2004), pp. 115-123].