Teams of Teachers Helping Each Other

Interesting article in the New York Times about what's happening in K-12 education in Massachusetts. It kind of gives me hope for teachers even in a time of turmoil.

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.”


kprugman said…
This article would require some analysis - but my hunch is the message beneath the message is a need for achieving balance in an environment that is striving to improve the chaos that 'we all know' exists in classrooms.

It is not a flattering portrayal of classrooms in NYC.

I don't mind teaming, but it takes a smart administrator to find common prep periods. Make sure one teacher isn't divided between six classrooms so they're flying to get from one room to another.

Also, there's the question of expense. Usually, Title I pays for this or there's a grant. What if your school doesn't receive Title I funds.

Our alternative school teachers at the learning center, work 220-day school years. They get paid $107k per year and have a caseload of 60? students. They see 20 students every 2 hours. How would you like to have that job? No wonder my daughter's teacher every week calls me, Sir.

One of the dynamic elements in this article discusses the role of unions - one teacher saying she's glad she has a union. But she does not explicitly state why.

On the other hand, a person with a similiar experience knows already the school is having teachers do things that might be considered violating labor laws.

I can see a multitude of issues rising - e.g. teachers that are on temporary contracts vs. probationary contracts. Unfortunately, the teacher can remain on a temporary contract for the rest of their career.

Our union deals with this issue every school year. Out of 87 teachers riffed last year, only 8 cannot return to work.

This is why I'm saying we already have an evaluation process that works pretty well. On the other hand, we have administrators with absolutely no experience as teachers or administrators (Alan Birsin directed the INS before he became Superintendent of San Diego). His reign of incompetence caused the dislocation of more students and teachers than I think even for Detroit or NYC. Outlying districts, like Poway and Chula Vista, benefited from the teacher and administrator exodus. Upwards 50,000 students left the district while he was Superintendent (more students than the entire Seattle School District).

If parents couldn't expose him as a genuine nincompoop, I don't see what chance you have with MGJ. Stupid and ignorant works as an alibi in our country. Meanwhile, districts keep writing blank checks like they got money to burn.

Go back to basics and buy decent textbooks that students will enjoy learning from. Stop using Everyday Math and xeroxing pages of meaningless problems.
Sahila said…
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Sahila said…
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Sahila said…
And if all you see and read on those links outrages you and you want to get involved in doing something about it, Dora Taylor is hosting a meeting for interested people on Sunday 29 August, 2pm in central Seattle...

email her for details:
Eric M said…
sort of off-thread, but I think this is really solid and important. Maybe the moderators could use it in a new thread.

From the DOE itself: error rates in testing

This paper addresses likely error rates for measuring teacher and school performance in the upper elementary grades using value-added models applied to student test score gain data. Using realistic performance measurement system schemes based on hypothesis testing, we develop error rate formulas based on OLS and Empirical Bayes estimators. Simulation results suggest that value-added estimates are likely to be noisy using the amount of data that are typically used in practice. Type I and II error rates for comparing a teacher’s performance to the average are likely to be about 25 percent with three years of data and 35 percent with one year of data. Corresponding error rates for overall false positive and negative errors are 10 and 20 percent, respectively. Lower error rates can be achieved if schools are the performance unit. The results suggest that policymakers must carefully consider likely system error rates when using value-added NCEE 2010-4004 U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
estimates to make high-stakes decisions regarding educators.
Sahila said…
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Maureen said…
To get back to the OP:

I read this article when it came out and thought it represented a model a lot of us here could get behind. It seems to me to be teacher-driven and deals with (what I understand to be) the isolation some teachers can feel, as well as the push towards competition between teachers that many 'reforms' seem to advocate. It also seems to tie in with the motivation literaure in that quality of human interaction is valued over money when you're talking about non-manual labor.

The other thing I liked was that it makes it less risky for "good" teachers to go to schools that are being forced to restructure under NCLB. They go as a team and they know they will have a certain level of moral and practical support. The school then has a foundation to build on to attract other "good" teachers. That has to be better for the kids.

Here's a link to Teach Plus, the organization behind the model. I'm sure someone will dissect them and find out they got a Gates grant at some point and then they will join the evil cabal. But they sound good to me. If they weren't in Boston I'd be tempted to send them a resume!
Dorothy Neville said…
I agree with Maureen that this seems like an excellent approach.

One related comment. I sat next to a Hawthorne teacher at the last board meeting. As you may recall, Hawthorne and West Seattle Elementary are the two schools in addition to Cleveland that are got SIGs. So teachers had to sign a special contract to stay with the new rules, or they could transfer out. Well, she said that all the Hawthorne teachers decided to stay. They are committed to those kids. They also like the principal. At West Seattle, however, she told me that half the teachers left. Why? Because their principal had been there longer and had to be replaced, so they were not comfortable with signing a contract to stay without knowing who would be principal.

(note, I did not independently confirm her facts, just sharing what she said.)
Lori said…
Related to Dorothy's comments, the principal from West Seattle has been made co-principal at Bryant Elementary. Bryant was expecting to hire a vice principal to replace a retiring head teacher, but the school was told in the spring that the district would place someone, no local input.

I've heard good things about the new co-principal, but again, it's another example of top-down decisions, not local control. I'm also curious how many other elementary schools have this co-principal situation going on. Sounds confusing to me to know who you would go to with issues.
Maureen said…
One thing Teach Plus does is to hold networking events for teachers:

About the T+ Network:

Teach Plus seeks to build an informed and engaged community teachers who believe that urban students need increased access to effective, experienced teachers. The T+ Network provides opportunities for a large number of teachers to learn about education policy and research and to generate and exchange ideas about improving the teaching profession with each other and with policy makers. Teachers who come to Network events have the opportunity to directly interact with leaders in education policy and practice. Teacher feedback and input contributes to the policies and decisions made by policymakers that influence classrooms and students.

T+ Network events begin with an expert lecture or panel discussion followed by a professional networking reception. Events are interactive and teacher-led. During the discussion, audience members share ideas and give feedback using audience response technology and Q&A. Prior to events, teachers who RSVP gain access to a timely research article or report in order to be a more informed participant in the discussion.

That sounds cool. I wonder how they get a foothold in a District? Through the union or the central administration, both or neither? They currently operate in Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis and Memphis.
Sahila said…
T+ is full of reformist connections... see its advisory panel, its financial supporters and note where its management have worked:
seattle citizen said…
This sounds like an excelllent plan, and one that has already been, in different forms, utilized in various forms recently here in this city.

I like the idea of teachers collaborating: Support of newcomers (to teaching or to the building0; "accountability" in the form of peer expectations and transparency; and, one hopes, increased non-classroom time for collaboration.

A concern, if I read it right, is that this program does away with the ability of teachers who are discplaced to be guaranteed a job in the district. This district (and many people) want to do away with the ability of displaced teachers to be guaranteed a slot somewhere; this is part of the current contract negotiations, if I'm not mistaken.

Now, I understand concerns that displaced teachers might be "bad," though I don't think this is true by any means; I understand the idea that good teachers should be able to interview and find a slot, and if they can' well, they must not be good teachers; but the reality is that having a system where displaced teachers are gone unless they can find a willing hiring team or principal comes fraught with some problems:
1) displacement then becomes a tool, perhaps, to sweep out ot the system teachers who aren't "with the program" - a teacher expressing un-happiness with, say, alignment might be seen a troublemaker and summarily removed, and lose their job forever;
2) displacement occurs somewhat regularly - program closures, program constriction, building closures (lately) - if teachers are judged to be "good" in a district, shouldn't they be able to move around the district? If this is removed (and I understand the desire to build teams of one's chosing - a displaced teacher might not be a "perfect" fit), then where is the job security in a district fraught with transition, closures, reconfigurations....

So this is a good plan, but it allows teachers to lose stability. The district will lose staff to other districts that have more stability. Or, in a bigger picture if this ability of displaced teachers to stay in the district is done away with, we risk losing teachers who might be independent, have alternative voices, or simply be too expensive: out with the old and in with the new (and cheaper)
Sahila said…
from a facebook posting:

Zinn Education Project: Last week we mentioned that a TV news producer is doing a segment on how high schools are dealing more critically with Columbus and Indigenous issues. A number of you replied -- thanks. She is now looking for a middle or high school that has recently dropped Columbus Day celebrations or is debating the topic. If you have any leads, send an email to Bill Bigelow,
SC Parent said…
"...Strong Principals..."

This would require decentralization. From my limited experience it seems like our momentum is going the wrong way on that. What do you more knowledgeable folks see?
Unknown said…
I hope everyone read Wayne Grytting's opinion piece in today's Seattle Times.

Here's the really disturbing paragraph from my perspective:

"That is why the world's top education systems focus on recruiting the best teachers they can find. For example, in South Korea teachers are coming from the top 5 percent of college graduates, while in Finland, teachers are coming from the top 10 percent. But in the United States, according to the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, "We are now recruiting our teachers from the bottom third of high-school students going to college.""

We're usually way too politically correct to come out and acknowledge this fact but I think it's critically important and something we should never let get far off the radar screen. And that's why I think it's so critical that we don't just keep doing more of the same and expecting different results. We're no longer reliably getting the best and the brightest in the teaching profession to start with. SO while we all have example of terrific teachers we know, value, adore, there's a lot of dross out there too.
Jan said…
Rosie: Ouch! I don't want to cower with the "politically correct," but the meaning of "dross" is "waste matter" or "refuse," (unless you are using the term in the metallurgical sense -- which is not much better). Even the two teachers who caused me to change schools because their teaching was so abysmal were not "dross." They simply needed to find professions where they were not destroying the enthusiam of children.

Here are my thoughts on your point on teachers:
First -- in many European countries, teachers are more highly paid, more highly respected, and so maybe more "high performing" university students choose teaching as a profession. But, I know enough about Korean education (from Korean high school students I have known who came to the US to avoid their own system) to say that the Korean model is not one that I hope to see in the US. Finland has always sounded pretty cool, though.
Second, there were many years, earlier in the 20th century, when US kids did fine -- and they were not necessarily getting the top 5 or 10 percent of college grads as teachers. Were US teachers teaching a more "homogenous, less complex" population? (Probably -- in some parts of the country, but maybe not in places where lots of early 20th century immigrants settled.) Was it possibly the case that because so FEW other professions were open to women (teaching, nursing, library science, secretarial school -- have I missed any?), a higher percentage of high performing women chose to become teachers -- and we still didn't need to pay them very much, because after all, they were women? I don't know, but maybe.
But -- we have no model in the US for what you suggest. None of the "merit pay" schemes I have ever seen involve enough additional money to divert the doctors, engineers, future MBAs, hedge fund traders, etc. into making education a permanent career. And frankly, unless they are passionate about teaching kids, I am not sure I want them anyway.
And enterprises like Teach for America, while they attract "bright" young college grads, do very little to prepare them for the rigors of teaching in large, complex classrooms (I haven't researched what "training" Finnish teachers go through -- but assume it is materially more than what TFA students get) and - no surprise - most TFA teachers don't stay after their first, or first two, stints.

I agree that we shouldn't keep doing the same things and expect different results -- and I agree that the current "results" in terms of graduation rates, the "achievement gap," readiness for college, career training, etc. are not acceptable. But where I disagree is in thinking that the Federal government, with all the money it throws around through NCLB, RttT, etc., and the lobbyists, bureaucrats, and enterprising business folks that flock around trying to grab as much of it as possible, for as little work/risk as possible, are the solution. And I have not seen anything (either research, or reasoned argument) that suggests to me that the objectionable elements of SERVE will do either a reliable job of identifying (and driving out) bad teaching, or a reasonable job of encouraging "smarter" university students to select teaching as a career.
karyn king said…
You miss the point and decide to insult teachers in a most inhumane way! The point is that the society and the educational establishment doesn't value the work of educators, so many of those who would teach, just don't even bother to go into the profession where they know they will get hit from all sides. If there's "dross," maybe it rises to the top...
Charlie Mas said…
I was at a job interview recently and was asked about my dream job. I told the interviewer that I had a dream job within the industry, but that my absolute dream job was to teach middle school math.

So why don't I teach middle school math? Because the pay is low and I need to make a living. Because I would have to go back to school and get a fistful of degrees and certifications. Because I would have to comply with enough regulations to fill a shelf of binders. Because after I selflessly gave it everything I had, a significant part of the community would treat me like crap. Because I would have to work in dysfunctional bureaucracy with martinets and petty tyrants.

I suppose that one answer is Teach for America, which would allow me to be a teacher without the need for qualifications and for such a short time that the crap wouldn't grind me down.

Another answer would be to repair the dysfunction and allow teachers to do their jobs as they know they should be done.
Moose said…
"Because the pay is low and I need to make a living. Because I would have to go back to school and get a fistful of degrees and certifications. Because I would have to comply with enough regulations to fill a shelf of binders. Because after I selflessly gave it everything I had, a significant part of the community would treat me like crap. Because I would have to work in dysfunctional bureaucracy with martinets and petty tyrants."

Well, that can describe a lot of jobs Charlie, particularly those in the public sector or working in non-profits. Just saying...
Sahila said…
"Because after I selflessly gave it everything I had, a significant part of the community would treat me like crap. Because I would have to work in dysfunctional bureaucracy with martinets and petty tyrants."...

exactly what a lot of microsofties say about their jobs and bosses and the internecine rivalry within and between departments...

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