Bryan C. Hassel

New Research on Opportunity Culture®: Multi-Classroom Leaders’ Teams Produce Significant Learning Gains

By Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan Hassel, first published by Education Next, January 17, 2018

What if every student actually could have an excellent teacher?According to a new study released through the CALDER Center, it might be possible. Study authors found that students in classrooms of team teachers led by Opportunity Culture “multi-classroom leaders” showed sizeable, statistically significant academic gains. Read More…

Every School Can Have a Great Principal: A Fresh Vision for How

This column first appeared on Education Next.

Great teachers matter—we all know that. But great principals matter nearly as much. We recently profiled three principals who achieved strong student learning growth in their schools in tough circumstances. Forming and leading a team of teacher-leaders proved crucial to all. But then what?

Can great principals take their leadership to the next level and stay connected to teachers and students? Could they reach all schools, not just the fraction they reach today?

We asked just that, and here’s our answer: yes.

In An Excellent Principal for Every School: Transforming Schools into Leadership Machines, we share our vision for how districts and charter networks can reach a lot more students and teachers—potentially all—with great principals, for much higher pay, within regular budgets.

You might recognize this concept, since we’ve floated—and implemented—similar ideas with teachers in Opportunity Culture schools in several states already (including unionized districts). We’ve now extended our thinking to principals.

We envision four essential ingredients to provide far more schools with excellent principals:

  • Commitment. Districts commit to reaching all students with great teaching and all teachers with great leadership. Pursuit of these goals drives school staffing and design decisions.
  • Multi-Classroom Leaders. Great teachers lead small teams covering one or more grades or subjects, co-planning, co-teaching, and coaching teachers, and they are accountable for student outcomes of the whole team and for teacher development. They earn far more, too.
  • Schoolwide Team of Leaders. Principals lead their multi-classroom leaders as a team of leaders to improve instruction and implement a culture of excellence schoolwide.
  • Multi-School Leadership. Great principals extend their reach to small numbers of schools as “multi-school leaders” while developing principals, and principals-in-training, on the job. They also earn more.

If every great principal eventually led four schools, on average, as a multi-school leader, then every school could have an excellent, proven principal in charge of student learning, teacher leadership, and the development of other principals on the job.

A nod to recent teacher-leadership efforts: This leadership machine is powered by teacher-leaders. Not just any teacher-leaders, but ones with a lot more authority and a lot more accountability, and pay, than usual.

How? Opportunity Culture models extend the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to more students, for more pay, within budget. A team of teachers and administrators decides how to redo schedules and reallocate money to fund pay supplements permanently, in contrast to temporarily grant-funded programs. Schools provide additional school-day time for planning and collaboration, typically with teacher-leaders, whom we call multi-classroom leaders, leading teams and providing frequent, on-the-job development. Multi-classroom leaders provide frequent, in-depth support to the teachers on their teams—far more than a principal can for 20 to 50 individual teachers. Early outcomes indicate far more high growth and less low growth among students than comparable schools and strong teacher satisfaction.

To complete the leadership machine, principals must lead multi-classroom leaders as a team to drive instructional excellence schoolwide. As teacher-leaders take over responsibility for instructional excellence with the principal, a noninstructional operations manager role can take the place of an assistant principal position in most schools. In addition to focusing noninstructional duties away from principals, the operations manager role does not require the same level of education and certification.

This saves money to pay multi-school leaders substantial supplements. Paid principal-in-training residencies in some schools can also save money and become possible by having neophytes step up from multi-classroom leadership—where they’ve already learned to lead adults—and work under a multi-school leader.

These staffing changes allow multi-school leader (MSL) pay of at least 10 percent more than principals, potentially 20 percent more on average—and far more if experienced, successful MSLs take on a couple more schools than our proposed average of four.

With the right underlying supports, Multi-School Leadership creates a sustainable leadership machine: a larger pipeline of great leaders for schools and teaching teams, developed on the job from the start of their teaching careers, and earning far more than usual, within recurring budgets.

It could also bring more potential leaders into teaching and improve the implementation of curriculum and instructional changes. Imagine [insert your favorite curriculum element or teaching method] with excellent teachers in charge of implementation, supported by excellent principals.

What’s scarcest of the essential ingredients? Commitment. The rest is doable, as early Opportunity Culture schools have demonstrated.

Ultimately, research indicates that better leadership pays off in higher levels of student growth and achievement. For principals, teachers, and students, it’s time to let great principals extend their reach and lead schools that are leadership—and learning—machines.b

Opportunity Culture® Outcomes: The First Two Years

This post first appeared in Education Next.

Maybe it’s because we’re turning 50 in the coming year and have together been pondering the plight of the poor and their lost human potential since we were 20. But we’re weary of hearing education reformers pretend that just changing policies and management systems—name your favorite—will put an excellent teacher in every classroom. Even though most of us have spilled voluminous ink on those topics.

What if, instead, change started where excellence already lives—in the classrooms and minds of excellent teachers? That is, those teachers who achieve large student learning gains and leaps in higher-order thinking, and who inspire and motivate students and colleagues alike.

What if all it took to launch were a handful of willing superintendents and some committed principals? Ones willing to empower those excellent teachers: to reach far more students, lead and develop teams of colleagues on-the-job, and help their principals lead their schools, for substantially more pay?

What if all “systems” changes were geared to make that possible, at large scale?

From that line of thinking was born Opportunity Culture, an initiative to try this idea: Let school teams with teachers on them redesign jobs and use age-appropriate technology to extend the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to many more students, for more pay, within regular budgets, adding more planning time, and having them take full accountability for the learning of all the students they serve.

Seven schools in two states began implementing these new school models in 2013–14. More than 30 schools in three states implemented last year, and more than 60 schools in five states will be implementing or designing their school models in 2015–16.

The Public Impact team facilitated school decision-making, along with Education First and Education Resource Strategies, and we produced many free materials to help. But the teachers and principals get all the credit for their outcomes. We’ve gathered data on their early results from the first two years, and we report all the data for which comparison groups were possible.

These outcomes are promising for students and teachers, but there is room to improve the support—and, yes, the systems and policies—that affect teachers in these new roles and their principals.

The Opportunity Culture Dashboard posts school design, student, and teacher outcomes, along with our findings about needed improvements. Among the outcomes:

  • More than 150 teachers held advanced roles, and more than 300 other teachers were developed on the job by Opportunity Culture (OC) teacher-leaders in 2014–15.
  • Teachers typically reached 33 percent to 300 percent more students than average.
  • More than 16,000 students were reached using OC models in 2014–15, over 70 percent of them in STEM classrooms.
  • Districts launching recruitment by March received applications at a rate of about 30:1 applications per OC position. Those starting later had between 4:1 and 10:1 per position.
  • Teacher pay supplements for advanced roles ranged from $3,500 to $23,000 and averaged approximately $10,000.
  • All sites but one paid these supplements completely within regular budgets by reallocating funding, with no grants or special funding; all are within regular budgets for 2015–16.
  • Average weekly planning minutes ranged from 225 to 450.
  • Of the three schools that implemented Opportunity Culture models schoolwide in the first year:
    • Two had high growth in both reading and math in the first year.
    • The third school had high growth in reading and math by its second year (subject to state verification).
  • In schools transitioning gradually over two to three years, significantly more students in OC classrooms made high growth in the second year than in non-OC classrooms in the same and similar schools—by March 2015, 42 percent to 70 percent more made high growth, depending on the comparison group. Fifty percent more students in non-OC classrooms made low (Annualized data not yet available for OC classrooms; first-year data unavailable due to teacher privacy and lack of comparison data.)
  • A significant majority of teachers agreed with a wide range of positive statements about the Opportunity Cultures in their schools in an anonymous survey.

These outcomes are promising, particularly because schools with reported student outcomes were very high-poverty.

However, some pioneering districts, schools, and teachers achieved better, faster results than others. Strengths and challenges varied across sites. Learning quickly from these differences is crucial to improved outcomes as more schools and districts create their own Opportunity Cultures.

Charlotte to expand Opportunity Culture® to almost half its schools

We have exciting news today, with potentially big implications for teachers and students: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) announced a scale-up of its use of Opportunity Culture models that extend the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to more students, for more pay, within budget. The Belk Foundation, a local family foundation, announced a rare, three-year commitment to fund the redesign work, after which the models will be financially sustainable.

For far too long, the field has relied on unsustainably funded career paths. “Sustainable” equaled “We’ll apply for another grant.” This has limited opportunities to districts with superior grant-writing abilities, not the many more with committed, capable leaders who truly want to help more children learn and more teachers excel. With sustainable models, CMS—and other districts that follow its lead—can make a long-term promise to current and prospective teachers, rather than snatching back extra pay, and the roles it funds, after a few years.

Our team at Public Impact will partner with Education Resource Strategies to help schools select and adapt models that reallocate funds to pay teachers more for taking responsibility for more students’ learning, directly and by leading teaching teams in fully accountable leadership roles. Together, we will also help school teams, all of which include teachers, increase on-the-job planning and development time, and provide for flexible scheduling and grouping.

In fall 2013, four schools within the Project L.I.F.T. zone of high-need CMS schools began implementing Opportunity Culture models, which we developed in consultation with teachers nationwide from organizations including Teach Plus and Educators 4 Excellence.

Now, CMS school design teams that include teachers and school leaders will integrate the new models into 17 more schools this year, and more schools will join the implementation in each of the two years after that, with almost half of the district’s schools implementing by 2017–18. The Belk Foundation will fund transition costs with a grant of $505,000, one of the foundation’s largest ever.

Focus Federal Investments to Give Every Student Access to Excellent Teachers

Excellent teachers—those in the top 20 to 25 percent—are the ones who produce the strong learning growth students need to catch up and pursue advanced work. These teachers, on average, help students make a year and a half worth of learning growth annually. Without excellent teachers consistently, students who start out behind rarely catch up, and students who meet today’s grade-level targets rarely leap ahead to meet rising global standards.

Giving all students access to excellent teachers, and the teams that they lead, could also transform teaching, as we’ve begun to show through our Opportunity Culture pilot schools. The new school models in these schools allow sustainably funded higher pay for all, leadership roles that let great teachers lead teams, time for on-the-job collaboration and development, and enhanced authority and credit when helping more students. Early Opportunity Culture implementers have attracted large numbers of applicants for these new jobs, even in high-poverty schools.

In a new brief we wrote with Christen Holly and Gillian Locke for the Center for American Progress, Giving Every Student Access to Excellent Teachers: A Vision for Focusing Federal Investments in Education, we suggest four ways the federal government can dramatically increase access to excellent teaching and transform the profession: