Teams of Teachers Helping Each Other
From the article:
Earlier this year Massachusetts enacted a law that allowed districts to remove at least half the teachers and the principal at their lowest-performing schools. The school turnaround legislation aligned the state with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program incentives and a chance to collect a piece of the $3.4 billion in federal grant money.
From Washington this makes abundant good sense, a way to galvanize rapid and substantial change in schools for children who need it most.
In practice, on the ground, it is messy for the people most necessary for turning a school around — the teachers — and not always fair.
They point out that principals often make the decision and when you have a new principal, he or she may not know the staff well or their dynamics.
This also gets pointed out:
And how much to blame are teachers for the abysmal test scores at Orchard Gardens, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade turnaround school here, that’s had six principals since opening seven years ago?
The goal of the turnaround legislation is to get the best teachers into the schools with the neediest children, but often, experienced teachers get worn down by waves and waves of change and are reluctant to try again.
So what can be done to help with a messy, upsetting process? Well, the idea came from teachers.
In 2007, Teach Plus created a group of 15 teaching fellows, searching for ideas for turning around schools. The second most important thing they mentioned was a strong principal; the first, a team of effective teachers.
And that is the simple idea behind a new program that is being used to staff three of the turnaround schools in Boston: you don’t go alone. Rather than have the principal fill the slots one by one, the Boston schools have enlisted the help of a nonprofit organization, Teach Plus, to assemble teams of experienced teachers who will make up a quarter of the staff of each turnaround school come fall. (And before anyone can say it, yes, the Gates Foundation does help fund this effort.)
“It’s like jump-starting a culture at these schools,” said Carol R. Johnson, Boston superintendent of schools. “In turnaround schools, you often wind up with a high portion of first- and second-year teachers, so you need some experience, a team of teachers who are enthusiastic and idealistic.”
What's interesting is that there were 142 applicants for 36 positions and most of the applicants had very good credentials.
Mr. Zrike, the principal at Blackstone, said Teach Plus had provided such a strong core of teachers to anchor the school that it helped him recruit other experienced teachers. And it has allowed him to take a chance on three new teachers he can pair with the Teach Plus veterans.
Why would a teacher try this?
Tulani Husband-Verbeek, a reading specialist with seven years’ experience, said she became disillusioned after teaching at a high-achieving charter school. “They bragged all their graduates went to college, but they started with 120 freshmen and graduate 25,” she said. The Teach Plus team approach, she said, “strikes me as a sincere effort to turn around the public schools.”
Some interesting thoughts, too, from teachers on the union:
While the Boston union supports the team approach, it was dead set against the Race to the Top legislation, which allowed districts to empty out half the turnaround schools and make teachers reapply for their jobs.
When the Teach Plus teachers were asked about their union, they had mixed feelings.
“I feel it should be more proactive,” Ms. Vaisenstein said.
“I don’t like seeing it obstructionist and kvetching,” said Ms. Allen, the building union representative.
Ben Rockoff, a math teacher going to Orchard Gardens, felt that the union spent too much time defending the weakest members.
And yet, with all the upheaval in education, Ms. Vaisenstein said, “I definitely feel I need the union.”