… the most important variable on the road to successful competition would be the athletes, the people executing the plan on the field. It is the athletes that the nation fixes its hopes on. It is the athletes— much more than their coaches, personal trainers or other supporting cast members— that can actually bring home the gold.
In the “race” to dramatically change the lives of students trapped in failing schools across the country, it is teachers who are on the field; it is teachers who will ultimately determine whether we succeed with kids. Given the once-in-a-lifetime infusion of resources that the Race to the Top represents and given the unparalleled commitment across levels of the system to aggressively turnaround low-performing schools, can we field a team equal to the enormity of the task?
For the past two years, we have been working with a group of outstanding early career teachers in Boston, asking them to weigh in on this very question. We call them Policy Fellows and through the fellowship we connect them to research, policy, and best practice ideas from around the country. They’ve met with both national and local education leaders, tested their ideas in various forums, and debated with one another. Through this process, they’ve developed a compelling strategy for staffing low-performing schools.
Their report Ready for the Next Challenge is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the power and promise of the incoming generation of teachers and their passion for improving the lives of children of poverty.
First, and perhaps most important, they identify staffing low-performing schools as a problem that can be solved:
We believe that, given the right supports and conditions, there is no shortage of talented and experienced teachers willing to teach in low-performing schools. There are many teachers who are unsure if they will be able to build fulfilling and sustainable careers in their school building, but who are searching for reasons to stay. We count ourselves among them. We believe that teaching in high-need urban schools is uniquely challenging but also uniquely rewarding. We maintain that so-called “hard-to-staff” schools are not inevitable.
Second, they propose a comprehensive model for staffing low-performing schools with highly effective teachers. They call the schools Excellence Collaborative Schools and they call the team of teachers staffing these schools the Excellence Corps. The model is based on 5 principles:
- A cohort model of staffing where at least 1/3 of the staff (in some cases perhaps the entire staff) is hired as a team.
- Rigorous selection criteria that begin with two basic qualifications: three years urban teaching experience and demonstrated effectiveness with urban students.
- Career growth with a focus on classroom teaching that values the interest great teachers have in continuing to work with students.
- Differentiated pay for individuals selected to the Excellence Corps and in the form of schoolwide bonuses for schools that meet their growth goals.
- Dramatic culture change facilitated by key supports such as a high quality principal, expanded time for collaboration and intensive training.
President Obama has articulated a vision of reform that is “done with teachers rather than to them”. We couldn’t agree more with his belief that from teachers can come viable ideas to address the most intractable problems facing urban education today.
Can we field an effective, experienced team of teachers to fiercely compete on behalf of kids and succeed in closing the achievement gap? Ask the very teachers you’d want on the team. Their message is clear and compelling: It can be done.
-Guestblogger Celine Coggins, Founder of Teach Plus