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Education Opinion

Breaking News from the Teach Plus T3 Program

By Celine Coggins — October 31, 2011 3 min read
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Note: Celine Coggins, founder and CEO of Teach Plus, is guest blogging this week.

Thanks to Rick and his crew for tapping me as a guest-blogger. I promise to live up to the provocative blogging Rick’s known for later in the week. I want to start, though, by discussing one of the programs we run at Teach Plus as an example of what we’re all about. The results are in from the first year of our T3: Turnaround Teacher Teams initiative in the Boston Public Schools. I’m breaking the news here first!

At Teach Plus, we work to ensure that a greater proportion of students have access to experienced, effective teachers. We run three programs designed to help great teachers stay in the classroom while taking on leadership opportunities that place them at the center of reform. Our programs are: the Teaching Policy Fellows Program, the T+ Network, and T3: Turnaround Teacher Teams. In two years, the organization has grown from 16 founding teachers to more than 4,000 teachers in six cities (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis, Indianapolis, and DC).

T3 is a teacher-designed model for staffing low-performing schools with high-performing teachers. The teachers who developed the proposal (as part of our Teaching Policy Fellows program) argued that many experienced teachers who have a track record of success with urban students would be willing to teach in the most challenging schools under certain conditions. The conditions they specified were:

Excellent colleagues including a strong principal and a team of teacher leaders who would be rigorously selected and comprise at least 25 percent of the faculty.
Formal leadership roles that allowed them to expand their impact beyond their classroom.
Specialized training and time to work with colleagues.
Compensation that reflected their expertise and additional time commitment.

The formula is not rocket science, but it also was not happening in any school in the country a couple of years ago.

Today, the program operates in six Boston Public Schools and is rapidly expanding. It is becoming a proof point for a few important and contested areas of the education reform landscape.

First, it demonstrates that it is possible for teachers to take ownership over the “big picture” problems that inhibit the success of students across our nation. This is key to what it means to be part of a profession. So often, “solutions” to the most pressing problems our students face come from people who are not in daily contact with schools. Teachers, in many cases, have great ideas for how to address these problems, but have too few entry points for getting their voice heard beyond the walls of their school.

Second, the program is challenging the conventional wisdom that high-performing, experienced teachers will not teach in low-performing schools. The program is competitive, with about six candidates for every position from around the country. The recruitment and selection process we run is far more labor-intensive than most districts currently have the capacity to do alone, but it’s rooting out the most damaging pathology that exists in schools today--routinely placing our highest-need students with novice and/or weak teachers.

Third, (finally, after the long wind up, I’m getting to the breaking news part) it is demonstrating that it is possible to move the needle on student learning in a “turnaround” setting. Big shout out here to John Papay of Brown University who crunched the numbers for us. We found that T3 schools outperformed all possible comparison groups in terms of student growth on the MCAS, our statewide assessment in Massachusetts. Comparison groups include:
• All schools statewide;
• All Boston Public Schools;
• All turnaround schools statewide, and
• All BPS turnaround schools.

T3 schools as a group outperformed 89 percent of all schools in the state in elementary mathematics. Orchard Gardens, the one T3 school with students in grades 6 to 8, deserves special mention. OG performed at the 96th percentile of all schools statewide in producing student growth in ELA and at the 98th percentile in mathematics. The median middle school student at Orchard Gardens demonstrated more growth in mathematics than 82 percent of other students statewide.

Getting these results takes many ingredients, but the most important is the adults in the building. Kudos to all of those teachers who took the risk and are making it happen!

--Celine Coggins

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.