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ED’s new partner in teacher recruitment: Microsoft

Microsoft, through its Partners in Learning division, won the competition to take over the TEACH campaign and website.

The U.S. Education Department (ED) is handing control of its online platform for teacher recruitment and retention,, to software giant Microsoft Corp., the two organizations announced earlier this month.

ED officials launched the TEACH campaign and website in September 2010 to promote the teaching profession and bring a new generation of educators into the classroom.

The campaign aims to boost the number, quality, and diversity of people seeking to become teachers, particularly in high-need schools and subject areas in greatest demand. Its website connects aspiring teachers with information about the pathways to teaching, including preparation, certification, training, and mentoring, and it helps currently licensed teachers find jobs in districts nationwide.

With a looming teacher shortage creating a “pressing need” to recruit and retain more U.S. teachers, according to a former ED official, this development raises the question: Why turn over such an important campaign to a private company?

In a blog post explaining the move, TEACH Project Director Taryn Benarroch suggested that ED was overwhelmed by the public response to the campaign and was looking for a partner who could help the project continue to expand.

“Interest in the campaign flooded the department from diverse stakeholders within and outside the education sector,” Benarroch wrote. “…It soon became obvious that the potential power of TEACH was great, and that the movement to elevate the teaching profession and recruit the next generation of great teachers could flourish under the management of a private organization.”

ED held a competition in April, inviting both public and private entities to step to the plate and oversee the project. Microsoft, through its Partners in Learning division, won the competition to take over the TEACH campaign and website.

Partners in Learning will be responsible not only for maintaining the TEACH website and its marketing efforts, but for improving and expanding the teacher recruitment campaign going forward. Though ED is an official partner in these efforts, the Microsoft division now will be the sole owner and operator of the project, ED said.

“In many ways, [this project] encapsulates the power of partnerships, the promise of technology, and the benefits of international collaboration to strengthen the teaching profession,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a keynote speech during Microsoft’s Partners in Learning Global Forum.

In the coming months, Microsoft will be moving the site from to and will work to form a coalition of other private-sector companies that care about education, the company said.

Tom Carroll, a former ED official during the Clinton administration who is now president of the National Council for Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), said teacher recruitment and retention is critical to the nation’s competitiveness.

“We are going through a once-in-a-generation transformation of our teaching workforce that creates a pressing need to develop a new generation of educators,” Carroll said. “Over 1.5 million teachers could retire in less than eight years—in some large urban districts, as many as half the teachers are ready to retire today.”

The TEACH campaign “has the potential to significantly augment the work of many in the education and technology community who have been working for years on this challenge,” Carroll said. “As Partners in Learning picks up this project, however, it would do well to remember that recruitment alone is not enough.”

He explained: “Teaching has unfortunately become a revolving-door profession. Teacher shortages will never end until we change the unacceptable conditions that are driving digital-age educators out of the classroom, particularly in schools serving low-income students and children of color. TEACH needs to join forces with those of us who are working to transform schools into 21st-century learning organizations where both teachers and students can thrive. Recruitment without a school transformation and retention strategy is no better than pouring water into a bucket full of holes.”

Owning and operating a website is one thing, Carroll said, while “being an effective partner in a national campaign to improve teaching quality is another. The real test will be [Microsoft’s] ability to join forces with others who are actively working to develop schools that meet the needs of 21st-century learners.”

During the Partners in Learning Global Forum, Duncan said the TEACH campaign was inspired by the British; specifically, when Tony Blair took office in 1997, he faced one of the worst teacher shortages in the nation’s history. Four years later, the U.K. educational system had gone from having a 20-percent shortfall of teaching candidates to a 20-percent surplus.

“The Blair administration made teaching more appealing by launching a sophisticated national recruiting program to attract more people to teaching,” said Duncan. “And they supplemented that recruiting campaign with generous stipends and signing bonuses to reduce the costs of teacher preparation and encourage more prospective teachers to become instructors in understaffed subject areas, such as math and physics.”

[Read Duncan’s full speech here]

During the Partners in Learning Global Forum, Microsoft also announced a five-year partnership with the British Council to “increase quality and access in education and training around the world,” said the company in a press release.

The partnership aims to support the use of technology in fostering innovative teaching and learning practices to equip millions of students with 21st-century skills.

The first project will build 80 digital hubs at schools across Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda using Windows MultiPoint Server, and it is expected to train more than 20,000 school leaders and teachers and provide more than 100,000 learners and communities with digital access.

“I hope you will resist the idea that international competition in education is a zero-sum game,” said Duncan, “in which one nation’s advance is another nation’s loss. … Today’s knowledge-based economy compels educators and nations to become both more competitive and more collaborative. Advancing achievement and attainment everywhere is not a zero-sum game. It is a win-win game.”

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