The ongoing struggle to attract and retain the best and most effective educators to the teaching profession prompted the creation of the Teacher Advancement Program. While the issue of motivating school districts to do a better job has been featured prominently in the news in the past few years, it was education reform leader Lowell Milken who spearheaded the first innovative program in 1999 that has quietly helped to significantly improve teacher “recruitment, retention, motivation and performance.” The program was called “The System for Teacher and Student Advancement.” Today, it is know as TAP: the Teacher Advancement Program.
TAP was created as a comprehensive school reform system to supply teachers and administrators with the tools and opportunities to advance their career paths. TAP is designed to offer teachers the chance for ongoing professional growth, instructionally focused accountability and to earn additional performance-based compensation. The TAP formula of using a “multi-tiered” approach has accounted for higher levels of student achievement at schools where the program has been implemented compared to non-TAP schools.
After TAP was introduced in 1999, the program experienced a spike in demand from school districts hungry to improve their effectiveness. In order to meet this demand, Lowell Milken founded the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) in 2005. The creation of NIET also raised the stakes of TAP’s mission to “provide each and every child with an effective, highly qualified teacher,” according to NIET.
Today, NIET is an independent public charity that continues to form partnerships nationwide with schools, school districts, states and non-profit organizations to ensure that TAP is effectively implemented. TAP is currently active in 15 states, reaching about 20,000 K-12 teachers who are responsible for 200,000 students, according to NIET.
Before TAP was even created, Lowell Milken created another national initiative in 1987 that now plays a part in motivating teachers to participate in TAP. The “Milken Educator Awards” were launched to reward K-12 teachers and educators who far exceed even the best expectations. Hailed by Teacher Magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” Lowell Milken created the Awards to make the point that the best and most talented educators should be truly emulated in much the same way the best-of-the-best in film, sports, theater and literature are honored.
Today, the Milken Educator Awards is one of the nation's top teacher-recognition awards and rewards its recipient teachers with an unrestricted prize of $25,000. Unlike most award programs, the Milken Awards has no formal nomination process. Instead, the department of education in each participating state establishes an independent committee to recommend candidates based on strict criteria. The final selections are made by the Milken Family Foundation, which makes the surprise notification during an all-school assembly packed with students, colleagues, officials and the media. To date, the award has honored 2,500 K-12 teachers, principals and educators. Over the years, the Awards have also been instrumental in proving to parents and policy makers the fact that the quality of teachers in the classroom is by far the most important factor in determining student achievement.