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Pioneer Institute study looks at charter public school successes beyond state-mandated requirements

Read coverage of this report  in The Lowell Sun and The Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise.

BOSTON – Some Massachusetts charter public schools are taking novel approaches to teacher recruitment and training, and taking advantage of the fact that the law does not require charters to hire licensed teachers. There is evidence that some of these approaches to teacher training are enabling students to achieve at high levels, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

In Great Teachers are Not Born, They are Made: Case Study Evidence from Massachusetts Charters, education researcher and writer Cara Stillings Candal highlights five high-performing charter schools that have assembled and trained highly effective teaching workforces. Candal finds that these schools:

  • Take advantage of the autonomy they enjoy to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, in most cases without having to consider teacher tenure or other constraints found in district schools;
  • Tend to be “agnostic” on teacher licensure. Rather, they consider factors such as a teacher candidate’s academic background, alignment with the school’s mission, and whether and how a candidate will enhance the department or school;
  • Tailor approaches to teacher induction and professional development that have the following commonalities: frequent evaluations resulting in specific, actionable feedback; and the formation of collegial and reinforcing professional groups; and
  • Have clear philosophies about teacher retention and how to build talent pipelines that support the rapid induction of new teacher recruits and leverage experienced teachers.

The featured charter schools and networks include Lowell Collegiate Charter Public School, City on a Hill Charter Public Schools, Advanced Math and Science Academy, the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, and Match Charter Public Schools.

The study recognizes that reforms to improve the quality of the teaching workforce in Massachusetts public schools have likely contributed to an overall increase in students’ achievement as measured by standardized tests over the past 20 years. Those reforms include tests for licensure that assess both general and content-area specific knowledge, requirements for ongoing teacher professional development, and procedures for teacher evaluation.

But Candal also states that policy makers, school leaders, and teachers are realizing that qualifications do not always correlate with teacher effectiveness. Some Massachusetts charter schools are adept at assembling teacher workforces that help students learn and achieve at very high rates, even if many of those teachers have had little to no experience with traditional approaches to teacher training. Instead, these schools tend to hire candidates with strong academic records and subject-matter expertise, and train them to teach during their first year on the job. During that induction period, they closely monitor how each teacher impacts students and contributes to the overall life of the school.

The paper concludes that while Massachusetts is a national leader in K-12 public education, the Commonwealth still has room to improve teacher training and development. Schools and districts could learn from the tailored approach that some high-performing charter schools take. Furthermore, they could benefit from understanding how these charter schools have developed hiring processes that assess how an individual will contribute to the culture and growth of an entire school. Candal notes, “It may be time for Massachusetts to put less energy into designing bureaucratic hoops for prospective and experienced teachers to jump through and more energy into supporting educator preparation programs and schools to train and support teachers in different ways.”

Among the paper’s specific recommendations are:

  • Empower schools to assemble the right staff. Case study data suggest that the key to having an effective teacher in every classroom is having an effective overall teacher workforce that understands the mission and vision of a school.
  • Promote excellence in teaching through modeling and feedback. Effective teachers are not born, they are made. Charter schools instruct new teachers on a way of teaching that the school knows to be effective for its students.
  • Tie evaluations to student performance. Teachers who struggle to impact student achievement should be closely monitored and provided with weekly evaluations that are focused on giving them the tools they need to improve.
  • Provide opportunities for the best teachers to grow academically and professionally. High-performing schools want to retain the very best teachers. Some charter schools are improving teacher retention through new professional development opportunities for their more experienced staff.

Cara Stillings Candal is an education researcher and writer. She is senior consultant for curriculum and content at the Center for Better Schools/National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education, an adjunct professor at the Boston University School of Education, and a senior fellow at Pioneer Institute.

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Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.