America’s Teacher Corps

Executive Summary

We propose the creation through federal legislation of America’s Teacher Corps (ATC).  Highly effective K-12 public school teachers, as documented through district or state evaluation systems that comply with federal standards, would qualify for membership in the ATC.  Members of the ATC would receive visible recognition for teaching excellence and, conditional on service in high-poverty Title I schools, a salary supplement and portable credential.  The ATC would encourage states and districts to establish effective teacher evaluation systems and to use those systems to guide the recruitment, retention, placement, professional development, and compensation of teachers.  The ATC would serve to reduce unnecessary credentialing barriers to the movement of effective teachers from state to state.  The ATC would serve the needs of economically disadvantaged students by providing incentives for the best teachers to work in schools that serve those students.  By appealing directly to teachers, the ATC would complement the current federal program with similar goals, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and the Obama administration’s proposed replacement, the Teacher and Leader Innovation fund, both of which require applications from school district administrations for competitive grants.

A body of high-quality research demonstrates that teachers vary substantially in their effectiveness, with dramatic consequences for the learning of students.  There is also widespread agreement that the nation needs to increase the level of academic achievement of its students and address large achievement gaps between children from more and less advantaged families.  Thus, it is imperative that we enhance the overall quality of the teacher workforce and enact policies that increase the opportunities for children from poor and minority backgrounds to access highly effective teachers.  Yet, the current system for recruiting, retaining, placing, compensating, and providing professional development for teachers is neither rationally designed to create a high quality and equitably distributed workforce, nor is it successful in doing so.  Many of the best and the brightest are less likely to enter teaching compared to other fields.[1],[2]  Once in teaching they abandon the profession at high rates.[3],[4],[5]  If they do enter teaching and stay in the profession, they tend to serve in schools whose students are more advantaged.[6],[7]  Further, schools that serve disadvantaged students have very high rates of teacher turnover, meaning that students in those schools are likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers and that efforts at professional development and creation of a school community are frustrated by the constant churn of staff.[8],[9]  Finally, few existing programs and policies to address these problems through professional development, mentoring, and induction show any evidence of success.[10],[11],[12]

We conclude that the conditions of teacher employment have to be restructured to recruit and select more promising teachers, provide opportunities for potentially good teachers to realize their potential, keep the very best teachers in the profession, and motivate them to serve in locations where students have the highest needs.  The ATC aims to take an important step in this direction.

The preconditions for these changes are valid systems for evaluating and monitoring teachers and incentives for the best teachers to serve where they are most needed.  There are school districts and states around the country that are innovating in these areas, but the pace of change for the nation is glacial whereas the imperative for reform is urgent.  The principal federal effort in this area, the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), is designed to provide financial support for school districts that wish to innovate and can generate a competitive grant application for federal funds, but most districts operate under constraints that make it difficult for school administrators to introduce reforms in teachers’ working conditions if they want to, and many do not.  The same constraint arises with respect to the Obama administration’s proposed replacement for TIF, the Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund.[13] We believe that a federal grant program that depends on district superintendents to initiate applications to compete for funds to change district labor market practices for teachers is not sufficient to achieve widespread reform.

 The new federal program we propose would support the development of meaningful teacher evaluation systems at the district and state level by providing incentives to teachers who can demonstrate their effectiveness through the performance evaluations that they receive in such systems. The incentives would be public recognition of teaching excellence through earned membership in the ATC and, contingent on service in a high-poverty school, a nationally portable credential and substantial salary supplement.  

The ATC is consistent with long-established principles for federal involvement in the education of the disadvantaged because it supports rather than usurps the state and local roles in monitoring teachers. The funding for salary supplements will flow from the federal government through districts just as it does for other Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) programs that underwrite the costs of educating disadvantaged students. We believe that the incentives of extra compensation, a portable credential, and national recognition provided to excellent teachers will motivate teachers to encourage the school districts that employ them to institute systems for documenting their performance that comply with the ATC requirements. For this to happen, the ATC will have to provide enough extra salary compensation to motivate teachers to participate and the recognition of teaching excellence afforded by the ATC will need to develop a strong positive reputation within the teaching profession. We envision a scenario whereby excellent teachers who are ineligible for the ATC because they serve in districts that have not established an acceptable evaluation system will become advocates within their districts to establish such a system, or they will migrate to districts in which their teaching excellence can be recognized and rewarded.

The ATC can be budget-neutral if a portion of the funds that are appropriated for the Teacher Incentive Fund or the Obama administration’s proposed replacement, the Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, are redirected to the ATC.  Because the ATC has goals that are well aligned with those of TIF and the Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, we believe that political supporters of those programs could also support the ATC and that the programs could co-exist.


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Gitomer, D.H. (2007). Teacher quality in a changing policy landscape: Improvements in the teacher pool. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.


Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2005). Explaining the short careers of high-achieving teachers in schools with low-performing students. American Economic Review, 95(2), 166–171.


DeAngelis, K. J. & Presley, J. B. (2007). Leaving schools or leaving the profession: Setting Illinois’ record straight on teacher attrition (IERC 2007-1). Edwardsville, IL: Illinois Education Research Council.


Goldhaber, D., Gross, B., & Player, D. (2007). Are public schools really losing their “best”?: Assessing the career transitions of teachers and their implication for the quality of the teacher workforce. Working Paper 12, Washington, DC: Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, Urban Institute.


Peske, H.G. & Haycock, K. (2006). Teaching inequality: How poor and minority students are shortchanged on teacher quality. Washington, DC: The Education Trust.


Boyd et al., supra, note 3.


Barnes, G., Crowe, E., & Schaefer, B. (2007). The cost of teacher turnover in five school districts. Washington, DC: National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.


Allensworth, E., Ponisciak, S., & Mazzeo, C. (2009). The schools teachers leave: Teacher mobility in Chicago Public Schools. Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute.


Ingersoll, R. & Kralik, J. (2004). The impact of mentoring on teacher retention: What the research says. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States.


Isenberg, E., Glazerman, S., Bleeker, M., Johnson, A., Lugo-Gil, J., Grider, M., Dolfin, S., & Britton, E. (2009). Impacts of comprehensive teacher induction: Results from the second year of a randomized controlled study (NCEE 2009-4072). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.


Yoon, K.S., Duncan, T., Lee, S.W., Scarloss, B., & Shapley, K.L. (2007). Reviewing the evidence on how teacher professional development affects student achievement. Issues & Answers Report, REL 2007-No. 033. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.


U.S. Department of Education (2010). Fiscal year 2011 budget summary. Retrieved February 9, 2010, from