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Marshall Memo 493

The following was excerpted from the publication:

Quotes of the Week

“A large body of research on professional development shows that classroom practice is most likely to improve when teacher learning is linked to the specific content and materials they are teaching, the challenges their children are encountering, and their own knowledge and skill gaps.”      

-Karen Hawley Miles et al. (see item #1)


1. Keys to Teachers’ Professional Development

In this important report from Educational Resource Strategies (ERS), Karen Hawley Miles and nine colleagues draw on an analysis of three school systems – Duval County, Florida, Washington, D.C., and Achievement First Charter Schools – to present a vision for building collective teaching capacity in the Common Core era – “so that every student can count on having effective teaching every year, in all subjects.” Here are the six steps they recommend:

  • Take inventory of current spending on improving teaching. This includes training, conferences, expert support, substitute coverage, professional time, data days, salary increments for education credits, curriculum, teacher evaluation, and analysis of student assessments. Spending for this broad category is much higher than most districts recognize – between 8 and 15 percent of these three systems’ operating budgets. “This gives system leaders a lot with which to work,” say the authors, “as well as creating huge responsibilities for effective management.”
  • Capitalize on mandates and growing investments in Common Core standards, student assessment systems, and teacher evaluation to create integrated systems for teacher growth. These sea changes in American education give districts “a unique opportunity to invest strategically in teacher development,” say the authors. “Rather than manage curriculum development, student assessment, teacher evaluation, and professional development as separate silos with competing demands, systems can forge connections between the departments to ensure that each support area complements and strengthens the others in the following ways:”

-Learning goals and aligned materials provide the agenda for professional growth.

-Frequent interim student assessment reports help teacher teams adjust instruction in real time.

-Evaluation rubrics describe teacher performance across a range of skills and knowledge and inform next steps for individual, school, and system professional growth.

“The more tightly the components are linked to each other and to professional growth, the more likely it is that learning and action will be aligned,” say the authors. They salute Achievement First for doing this best, spending, for example, $750 per teacher on the “debrief” step of evaluation, which is key to ensuring that classroom observations and analysis of interim student assessments result in professional growth. This contrasts to Washington D.C.’s contractually constrained system, which spends only $300 per teacher on evaluation debriefs, spreads its “Master Educators” too thinly, and can’t use instructional coaches for evaluation. ERS has developed a Professional Growth and Support System Self-Assessment tool to help districts assess capabilities and target their resources in ways that will really make a difference.

  • Leverage expert support to guide teacher teams who share instructional content. “A large body of research on professional development shows that classroom practice is most likely to improve when teacher learning is linked to the specific content and materials they are teaching, the challenges their children are encountering, and their own knowledge and skill gaps,” say the authors. “Instructional coaches and teacher leaders with subject expertise are well-suited to lead this kind of ‘job-embedded’ support… Such coaching enables teachers to try new approaches, receive feedback on their attempts, and reflect on the results.” And team coaching is more efficient than one-on-one coaching, taking advantage of economies of scale and the “social capital” of peer interactions within each team. Again, Achievement First has the most effective model for leveraging the power of team analysis of interim assessments for professional growth, with Washington, D.C. and Duval concentrating most coaching on low-performing schools. The authors recommend a focus on:

-Creating school schedules that give teacher teams time to collaborate;

-Building the content knowledge and coaching expertise of teacher team leaders;

-Giving teams access to real-time student learning data for team analysis.

ERS’s professional resources inventory is a good starting point to identify needs and build capacity.

  • Support growth throughout a teacher’s career by restructuring compensation and career paths. “Providing opportunities to deepen or broaden expertise or address skill gaps at just the right point in a teacher’s career can make a big difference in accelerating performance, keeping teachers invested in their careers, and growing their level of contribution,” say Miles et al. They recommend moving away from traditional salary lanes, which research says are an ineffective way to develop teachers, and differentiating support based on each teacher’s stage of development – with the aim of incentivizing responsibility and results. Here are the steps in Achievement First’s career ladder:

-Stage 1: Intern: A beginning teacher, preparing to matriculate to a full-time position;

-Stage 2: Beginning teacher in first, second, or third year – Key criteria: improving student growth, core instruction, classroom culture with coach/school leader support;

-Stage 3: Solid practitioner averaging 1+ years of student growth, focusing on academic outcomes and character, with strong parent communication;

-Stage 4: Senior teacher: At least a fifth-year teacher with two years of strong results and two years as a Stage 3 teacher: exceptional performance, closing achievement gap, ensuring student success after leaving Achievement First, reinforcing school values and teams;

-Stage 5: Master teacher: At least a seventh-year teacher with two years of superior results and two years as a Stage 4 teacher; a role model of rigor, character, exemplary student outcomes, transforming students’ lives and character for college and beyond, partnering with parents, improving teams and school.

Compensation for Achievement First teachers is aligned with these stages.

  • Add and optimize time to address organizational priorities as well as individual needs. Non-instructional time is the key commodity in professional growth, say the authors – time for introducing new curriculum, discussion, observation and feedback, or working in teacher teams looking at student assessment results. The three systems ranged from 26 percent to 41 percent of annual teacher work time devoted to professional growth. The authors recommend using ERS’s Professional Growth and Support Spending Calculator to rethink policies.
  • Overhaul legacy policies and contracts and make strategic trade-offs. The first step is making an honest assessment of teachers’ effectiveness and deciding on a system strategy, say the authors. The next step is aligning resources to the strategy – “a seemingly obvious, but often-missed step,” they say. “This means prioritizing the most important investments and eliminating spending that doesn’t fit or does not yield improvement.” Contracts need to be re-negotiated and spending rethought. Again, ERS has developed a series of tools to help districts make this arduous journey.

“A New Vision for Teacher Professional Growth and Support: Six Steps to a More Powerful School System Strategy” by Karen Hawley Miles, Anna Sommers, David Bloom, Kira DeVaul, Alyssa Fry, Melissa Galvez, Genevieve Quist Green, Allison Daskal Hausman, Chris Lewis, and Ashley Woo, Educational Resource Strategies (ERS), May 2013; the full report is available at http://www.erstrategies.org/library/a_new_vision_for_pgs (spotted in Public Education NewsBlast, June 27, 2013)

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