The New Teacher Project’s (TNTP) new report The Mirage sheds light on the nation’s failure to advance strong professional learning for U.S. teachers. The report includes a call for redesigning schools to extend the reach of great teachers. TNTP President Dan Weisberg’s Ed Week quote on the report is right—to give teachers a real shot at professional learning that works, the nation “ought to be testing whether there are other models of school design, teacher jobs, that have a better chance of getting kids consistently excellent instruction.”
These are the right words, but our nation’s teachers and students need far more than words. Reports are a start. We’ve written quite a few of them ourselves about the need for new school designs that extend excellent teachers’ reach, going back to our 2009 3X for All. TNTP itself called for extending the reach of great teachers in one of its prior reports, The Irreplaceables. Teach Plus, Education Resource Strategies, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, and others have, too.
Now, however, is the time for action. The consensus has mounted that the one-teacher-one-classroom model is not working well for teachers or students. Yet almost all teachers work in exactly that model, despite report after report calling for something different. It’s time to get out of that swirl of talk and transform schools for the better. As Ben Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said.”
What if all of us, and more, turned talk into action?
What if the opportunity of new school designs and teacher roles were available to teachers everywhere?
Fortunately, action is already underway. The teacher voice organization Teach Plus has brought teams of great teachers into struggling schools to lead their transformation. Districts like Denver Public Schools are starting to create meaningful, differential roles for teachers. More than 60 schools in five states and seven public school districts have signed on to Public Impact’s growing Opportunity Culture initiative, now in its third implementation year.
We’re partial to the Opportunity Culture approach, because unlike other efforts, it is financially sustainable—and thus scalable to any school anywhere. In Opportunity Culture schools, successful professional learning is no mirage. Teachers are redesigning their schools’ roles and schedules so that great teachers reach more students, and most teachers work in teams led by excellent teachers. Each team leader takes full responsibility for teacher development and student learning in the team’s subjects and grades. In the 34 schools that implemented an Opportunity Culture last year, teacher-leaders earned an average of $10,000—and as much as $23,000—more for these advanced roles, giving them a clear stake in successfully developing other teachers. They have additional school-day time for planning and co-teaching, coaching, modeling, and collaborating with their teams—providing genuine, on-the-job, consistent development. A team of teachers and administrators at each school decides how to reallocate money to fund pay supplements permanently, in contrast to temporarily grant-funded programs.
As we wrote recently, the early implementers have gotten promising results, including high growth in both reading and math by the second year in schools that used Opportunity Culture models schoolwide. In schools converting more gradually to the new models, the Opportunity Culture classrooms showed far more high growth and far less low growth than students in comparable, non-Opportunity Culture classrooms. In anonymous surveys, teacher satisfaction is high, even among teachers not in advanced roles. Schools have received as many as 30 applicants per position for the advanced roles, and all have been selective. There’s room to improve, but the results point in the right direction. See for yourself on OpportunityCulture.org.
The Mirage is appropriately gloomy on the overall state of professional learning nationwide. Readers need to understand, however, that change is already happening. Charter schools and districts are hopping in the game, but—for now—the districts are leading on staffing innovation at larger scale. They are implementing entirely new approaches in varied contexts—union and non-union, small town and big city, well-funded and not—and often in challenging circumstances, such as superintendent turnover and severe state policy constraints.
We’ve been pleased to have the CEOs of all the organizations we listed above on the national Opportunity Culture Advisory Team. We have partnered with others, such as Education First, to put the models into action. Many other organizations are well-positioned to help schools redesign themselves to extend excellent teachers’ reach in this way, too. If all of these leaders turn to action now, the stream of professional learning already flowing in 60 schools could become a vast river of learning and job opportunity for U.S. teachers—and their students.
Editor’s Note: This article was initially published in EducationNext.