Researchers Report Strong Student Learning Results in Texas Opportunity Culture® District

by | September 29, 2021

By Public Impact®, September 29, 2021

Photo credit: Ashley Osborne, Blackshear Magnet Elementary School in Ector County ISD.

Researchers from Texas Tech University report that students served by Opportunity Culture® multi-classroom leader teaching teams achieved learning growth in the top quartile teamwide, on average, according to their study of the Ector County Independent School District’s first Opportunity Culture® year.

The district asked the researchers to conduct an independent review of its first eight Opportunity Culture® schools, which began using Opportunity Culture® roles in 2020–21 with 27 multi-classroom leaders. In those first schools, 72% of students—7,121 out of 9,928 students at the schools—were reached by an Opportunity Culture® team. This year, the district has 17 Opportunity Culture® schools and 59 multi-classroom leaders.

The national Opportunity Culture® initiative aims to reach many more students with excellent teachers and their teams, for more pay, within regular school budgets. In an Opportunity Culture® school, a multi-classroom leader—a teacher with a track record of high-growth student learning—leads lesson planning, data analysis, instructional changes, and coaching for a small team, while continuing to teach some portion of the time. Accountable for team results, multi-classroom leaders earn a supplement that averages more than 20% of base pay nationally; in Ector County, this ranges from 26% to 35% of base pay. School teams of teachers and administrators choose how to use Opportunity Culture® roles and their school budgets to address their school needs.

The researchers highlighted just how positive the results were for all students, and especially for English language learners and students considered socioeconomically at risk.

“We get paid to be critical of things—that’s sort-of our job,” researcher Alexander Wiseman, a professor of educational leadership & policy in the Texas Tech College of Education, said in a presentation to the Ector County ISD (ECISD) school board. “We just don’t find so many glowing remarks, usually. We had a lot of positive indicators in this evaluation; in literally decades of conducting evaluations like this, I haven’t seen a lot that have gone like this.”

The researchers presented results showing that students with Opportunity Culture® teachers achieved higher reading and math achievement at all grade levels, compared with ECISD students who did not yet have Opportunity Culture® teachers. They reported effect sizes of .20 standard deviations in reading and about .07 standard deviations in math, especially notable during a pandemic year.

Public Impact® has applied Stanford economist Eric Hanushek and his colleagues’ method for converting effect sizes into years of learning to these results. While no such conversion is perfect, this method suggests that students achieved an:

  • Extra 0.8 years of learning in reading
  • Extra 0.3 years of learning in math

The nearly 2,000 English learners taught by Opportunity Culture® teams had even larger reading gains, with an effect size of about .32 standard deviations. Using Hanushek’s method, that means an extra 1.3 years of learning compared with other English learners.

The positive impact on students and the study size were similar in magnitude to the 2018 Brookings-AIR CALDER Center study of Opportunity Culture® results in three districts, and show how, if students could make these learning gains year after year, those who start out behind could catch up and move on to advanced work.

Averaging the two studies, the extra learning gains that students on multi-classroom leaders’ teams make each year would have more than made up for Covid-related learning loss.* And in non-Covid years, students would make far more learning growth than they otherwise do, on average.

The Texas Tech researchers also presented a positive qualitative analysis of the district’s implementation—including how teachers and principals perceived multi-classroom leader roles relative to standard coaching roles.

They shared quotes they heard consistently from teachers who appreciate the support they get from their multi-classroom leader, and from multi-classroom leaders who love their jobs—sentiments that are consistent with what Public Impact® hears from Opportunity Culture® educators in other districts.

“It really felt like I had a mentor,” a team teacher said.

A multi-classroom leader, or MCL, compared this role to typical specialist or facilitator roles: “I never understood. They pull out the cream of the crop and you take us out of classrooms…as a curriculum facilitator, as an instructional specialist, I’m in an office and I’m coming into your room and I’m telling you what to do. But as an MCL, I am showing you what to do, which it’s much easier for teachers to learn. And it gives you more credit when you’re in the trenches…I’m getting dirty with them.”

And an MCL highlighted the value of being able to continue working directly with students while leading adults: “I’m never ready to leave the kids. I love being with the kids… you get to help with the curriculum, you get to lesson plan, you get to be an instructional coach, but you’re still teaching classes. It was the best of both worlds for me.”

The researchers’ findings covered challenges as well, suggesting some need to further clarify the multi-classroom leaders’ roles, especially for team teachers—something district administrators note they are working on this year.

The researchers intend to continue to study the district’s implementation for another year, and the district is working with more schools this year to begin implementation in 2022–23.

*Covid-related learning loss, or “unfinished learning,” as estimated by McKinsey & Company for students nationally from March 2020–May 2021.

To see the researchers’ presentation, watch this video.

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