With Leandro Report, Hope for North Carolina’s Students

by | December 11, 2019

By Public Impact, December 11, 2019

As educators, legislators, business leaders, and others gathered for a summit on building a sorely needed pipeline of teachers of color for North Carolina, the long-awaited Leandro report hit the wires. Ordered by Judge David Lee, the report from WestEd spells out how the state can meet its constitutional obligation to provide a “sound, basic” education for every North Carolina child.

At Public Impact, we’re grateful for the work of so many who got the case to this point: for the judges who kept pressing to meet students’ needs; the lawyers and many state and local leaders who, often behind the scenes, fought for justice through this case; the numerous researchers who dug deep to find the best solutions; and the educators included in their research. [Note: Three researchers from Public Impact contributed research to one of WestEd’s 13 research teams.]

We find ourselves now with a mix of sorrow and hope.

Leandro has been working its way through the courts since 1994, when families from five counties sued North Carolina for not providing their children with the same educational opportunities as students in wealthier districts. We can’t brush past the tragedy of the lost Leandro generation: children, now adults, who missed out on the education that the state Supreme Court declared they deserved in 1997.

But, for the next generation, we feel hope. The report illuminates both the many inequities students face and a way forward. The list of actions needed to remedy the inequities is long and detailed—rightly so, given the enormity and complexity of the challenge.

Long and detailed could overwhelm good intentions and lead to brief and minimal progress. We can’t let this happen: The state’s leaders and we who support our educators must act with urgency to make changes as soon as possible, and as well as possible.

We appreciate that the report highlights the need to fund advanced roles pilots and notes how Opportunity Culture’s Multi-Classroom Leadership offers opportunities for excellent teachers to advance without leaving the classroom, and, unlike instructional coach roles, provides guaranteed higher pay.

Multi-Classroom Leadership allows great teachers to lead small teams, providing in-depth, job-embedded guidance, support and collaboration while continuing to teach part of the time. The report notes that roles like this help retain new teachers and keep great teachers teaching. Without such roles, teachers feel stuck, able to advance only by becoming administrators or exiting education altogether.

We have seen and heard firsthand what it means to aspiring teachers, new teachers, veteran teachers, and great teachers to have a career path with well-paid advanced roles that guide and support colleagues. Powerful interviews with multi-classroom leaders, the teachers on their teams, and Opportunity Culture principals and superintendents have made it clear that these educators feel respected, challenged, supported, and engaged in the work of changing children’s lives.  Ninety-nine percent of multi-classroom leaders and 88 percent of all staff want Opportunity Culture to continue in their schools, according to our most recent anonymous national survey.

Their positive perceptions are accurate: In 2018, researchers from the Brookings Institution and American Institutes for Research found that teachers who joined the team of a multi-classroom leader (who had prior high growth as a teacher) then produced learning gains equivalent to those of teachers in the top quartile in math and nearly that in reading. The team teachers were, on average, at the 50th percentile in the student learning gains they produced before joining an MCL’s team.

In our long-standing vision for the future of North Carolina and the nation, Opportunity Culture’s multi-classroom leaders (MCLs), multi-school leaders (MSLs), and paid, within-budget residencies for aspiring and new educators on MCL and MSL teams will offer a complete package to achieve ambitious objectives like those in the Leandro plan. If every teacher were part of a team led by a multi-classroom leader, every aspiring teacher in a paid residency on one of these teams, and every school leader part of a small group of schools led by an excellent principal as multi-school leader, we hypothesize, based on evidence to date, that far more classrooms would have the high-growth-producing instruction students need consistently.

In addition, the state and nation must pay all teachers far more; if teachers were paid the same proportion of education budgets that they earned in 1970, today’s average pay would exceed $100,000. Instead, our state and nation have funded so many things except paying more to the people who matter most. Matching the pitiful national average is not enough.

We believe that North Carolina actually can provide excellent, collaborative, well-supported teaching to all students, regardless of their school’s or county’s wealth.

North Carolina can live up to its constitutional obligation. And we know that our children can’t wait another day, much less 25 years, to see its adults take action.

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