What Makes an Opportunity Culture Different?

by | March 31, 2015

When Public Impact launched the Opportunity Culture initiative, we were clear on the goal: reach as many students as possible with excellent teaching. As our team worked with teachers and principals, we committed to a second goal: provide outstanding, lasting, well-paid career opportunities to educators.

As researchers, we saw many pay and career path programs fall short of those goals–and still see too many today. Too often, pay programs fail to provide opportunities for teachers to learn from outstanding peers and others at work–to collaborate, plan with, and support one another. Too many new roles are funded with temporary or politically tenuous money. And very few pay or career path programs increase the number of students who have excellent teachers formally responsible for their learning.

So we embodied our goals and the guidance to achieve them in the five Opportunity Culture Principles. Those principles set Opportunity Culture schools apart from the other efforts.

Here’s a primer on what makes an Opportunity Culture different:

  • Many more students are reached by top-25% teachers—that is, the teachers who consistently make about 1.5 years of progress each year with their students. These teachers close achievement gaps. Even with good, solid teachers who make the usual “year’s worth of progress,” students who come in behind stay behind. They must receive the excellent teaching–consistently–that allows them to catch up and leap ahead. Great teachers can show others how.
  • Careful scheduling of the teachers and multi-classroom leaders (MCLs) ensures more protected, school-day planning and collaboration time and clarity on how to use that time. The MCLs spend much time coaching, co-teaching, and collaborating with their team teachers, who tell us just how much they value that daily, genuinely useful feedback and support, and hope never to move to a school without these powerful teams.
  • Accountability matches the responsibilities of each person. Thus, a multi-classroom leader differs from the usual coach/facilitator/mentor roles by taking formal accountability for the results of all the students served by the teachers on the MCL’s team.
  • Large pay supplements are funded through reallocations—i.e., funded through current school budgets, not temporary grants, making the higher pay sustainable. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, multi-classroom leaders, excellent teachers who lead a teaching team while continuing to teach, can make supplements of up to $23,000—50 percent more than average teacher pay in N.C.; blended-learning teachers can make up to $9,800 more.
  • Position exchanges to fund higher pay are determined by a school design team made up of teachers and administrators at each Opportunity Culture school, deciding what fits their school best. An Opportunity Culture isn’t handed down from on high. Teachers lead the way.

Teachers in Opportunity Culture schools in Syracuse, N.Y.; Nashville, Tenn.; Charlotte, and Cabarrus County, N.C. now have career path options never available before. Schools in Texas and other locations are joining the initiative. Teachers who thought they had no choice but to advance into administration have stayed in the classroom—or come back because of the new roles, career possibilities, and pay that returns respect for what they accomplish.

Opportunity Culture schools are experiencing strong success in recruiting and retaining great teachers even in high-poverty schools that previously could not fill all of their positions–especially crucial in hard-to-staff areas such as STEM.

Hear what teachers and administrators have to say about why the differences in an Opportunity Culture matter, and watch this space for more new videos and tools districts can  use to create their own Opportunity Cultures. For an introduction to an Opportunity Culture, read this.

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