Kelly Kovacic: Strengthening our Human Capital Strategy in Education

Kelly Kovacic: Strengthening our Human Capital Strategy in Education

Photography for HGSE annual report and other publications.

The foundation of a thriving democracy is an educated citizenry able to make well informed and rational decisions. This can be accomplished, but only by ensuring that we have highly qualified teachers in each of our nation’s classrooms and strong education leaders throughout our education system.


Traditionally within the education space, we have been masters at innovation - introducing and layering new reforms and initiatives -  but poor at building systems.  While we have examples of success on a small scale - individual school sites, select charter networks, and progressive districts that show sustained improvement - the education landscape in general is littered with popcorn reforms and a zig-zag policy path.  The result has been inequitable access to strong educational opportunities for far too many of our students.


In his chapter Building a Better Pipeline: Thinking Smarter About Talent Management, Dr. Ranjit Nair, (https://www.wpri.org/Special_Reports/PathwayToSuccess/PathwayToSuccess6202013.html),  makes the argument that one primary lever to improve education at scale is strategically strengthening human capital management systems. In particular, he outlines three key strategic components: improving recruitment techniques, increasing rigor in performance management, and strategically aligning compensation to “create, nourish and sustain a high-performance culture in schools.”


Any sustained, systemic improvement in education requires a strategic approach to recruiting, preparing, and retaining highly effective teachers and school leaders. It is essential to build and support a human capital pipeline and infrastructure. Over the past decade, our system has successfully set metrics and defined outcomes for student achievement. We are having a much more robust conversation about the need for every student to receive a high quality education. However, we have not matched our accountability structures with the necessary supports throughout the system to help reach these desired outcomes for our students. Too many of our educators are unprepared and undersupported.


In 2011, California Superintendent of Public Schools Tom Torlakson and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing jointly created the California Task Force on Teaching Excellence. The task force was composed of a cross section of stakeholders.  I was appointed to the commission and, over the course of the year, we worked on a set of recommendations to create a strong education system in California. In September 2012, the commission released its report Greatness by Design. The recommendations, similar to Dr. Nair’s proposals, begin with strengthening professional development and the human capital infrastructure.


To develop a world class education system comprised of a highly accomplished and supported workforce of educators, it starts with designing an integrated system that attracts talented individuals and creates a culture of high expectations and support. To build such a system the following key steps are essential:


  1. Designing strong preparation programs: Dr. Nair writes that, “Careful attention should be paid to the individual identification models for existing teachers and the organizational culture fostering them.” Essential is to set strong evidence of outcomes for our teacher preparation programs (whether traditional or alternative credentialing programs) and ensure we have in place rigorous tests of basic skills, content knowledge, key competencies and pedagogy before granting a full credential. Preparation programs must provide teacher candidates with clinical practice and multiple opportunities for coaching and reflection about their practice.
  1. Induction of new teachers must build on their preliminary preparation and provide job-embedded opportunities for personalized learning and formative assessments. Regular, high quality coaching by selected and well-trained mentors must be in place. In addition,


  1. Ongoing professional learning should build on the induction experience new teachers have and provide for a sustained and continued focused on strengthening a teacher’s content knowledge and pedagogical skill. Systems should be in place to support collaborative professional learning teams that are focused on teacher practice and student outcomes.


  1. The evaluation of teachers and education leaders throughout the system should be multifaceted and based on evidence of teaching practice and student learning outcomes. Continuous feedback loops must be embedded in the system that provide educators with personalized professional learning opportunities connected to particular areas of practice that require further growth


  1. Leadership opportunities should exist that recognize accomplished practice and support the spread of this expertise. Systems need to be in place that support a career lattice, providing teachers with choice for moving across the system to promote widespread teacher effectiveness.


Looking globally, there is no example of an education system that has improved to scale without investing heavily in building human capital and professionalizing the teaching profession.  Countries such as Singapore, Finland and South Korea, all of which were low performing countries on international rankings thirty years ago, intentionally focused their efforts and energy on creating a coherent system of recruiting, training, and supporting their teaching force.


Dr. Nair has identified some critical components of a talent management system.  Many of the ideas are not original, but they put forth a framework that provides some key elements for success.


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