Opportunity Culture Student Outcomes
Two Independent Studies Find Large Academic Gains in Opportunity Culture
Third-party studies have found that, on average, teachers who joined Opportunity Culture Multi-Classroom Leader (MCL) teams moved from producing 50th percentile student learning growth to 77th percentile student learning growth in both reading and math.
- A 2018 study looked at implementation in three early Opportunity Culture districts
- A 2021 study looked at a Texas district’s outcomes during the 2020–21 pandemic year
In the Texas study, the researchers highlighted how positive the results were for English language learners and students considered socioeconomically at risk—particularly notable during a pandemic.
When we apply the method of Stanford researchers* to these results to convert the data into years of learning, we see that they equate to an extra half-year of learning for students each year, on average—when an educator in the MCL role with prior high growth leads the team. Some MCL teams in these studies had teachers in the Team Reach Teacher role, as well..
Averaging the two studies, the extra learning gains that students on MCL teams make each year would have more than made up for Covid-related learning loss or “unfinished learning,” (as estimated by McKinsey & Company for students nationally from March 2020–May 2021). And in non-Covid years, students would make far more learning growth than they otherwise do, on average.
In the Texas study of Ector County, the district asked Texas Tech researchers Alexander Wiseman, Jacob Kirksey, and Jessica Gottlieb to conduct an independent review of its first eight Opportunity Culture schools, which began using Opportunity Culture roles in 2020–21 with 27 MCLs. In those first schools, 72% of students—7,121 out of 9,928 students at the schools—were reached by an Opportunity Culture teaching team.
The researchers showed that Ector County ISD (ECISD) 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.
In the study, the nearly 2,000 English learners taught by Opportunity Culture teams had even larger reading gains—again using the Stanford researchers’ method, that meant an extra 1.3 years of learning compared with other English learners.
The Texas Tech researchers also presented a positive qualitative analysis of the district’s implementation. They shared quotes they heard consistently from teachers who appreciated the extensive MCL support they received, and from MCLs who highlighted the value of their role compared to typical specialist or facilitator roles, and in keeping them working directly with students while leading adults.
In the 2018 AIR-Brookings evaluation, students of teachers who served on teams led by MCLs showed sizable, statistically significant academic gains. The team teachers were, on average, at the 50th percentile in the student learning gains they produced before joining a team led by an MCL. After joining the teams, they produced learning gains equivalent to those of teachers in the 75th to 85th percentiles in math, and, in the six of seven models with statistically significant results, from the 66th to 72nd percentiles in reading.
The effects appeared to be both direct—with performance improving for individual students in MCL classrooms—and indirect, with whole schools’ growth rising when MCLs begin leading even part of a school. The study compared schools that had Opportunity Culture classrooms with schools that had none, as well as before-and-after results for schools that have implemented Opportunity Culture.
The study, by Ben Backes of the American Institutes for Research and Michael Hansen of the Brookings Institution, covered about 15,000 students and 300 teachers. Three-quarters of Opportunity Culture schools in these districts were eligible for Title I funds in 2015–16. Researchers controlled for factors including student background and prior performance.
Research Studies & the Opportunity Culture Principles
The studies affirm the importance of the Opportunity Culture Principles, which Opportunity Culture districts and schools must follow:
- Reach more students with excellent teachers and their teams. The studies show how important teachers in the Multi-Classroom Leader (MCL) role, who are selected based on prior high-growth student learning, are as the cornerstone of Opportunity Culture implementation. In the Brookings-AIR study, 100% of MCLs produced student growth in the top quartile of teachers prior to becoming MCLs. Critically, in the studies combined, team teachers led by an MCL shifted their students’ learning growth into the excellence zone (top 25 percent), too, on average.
- Pay teachers more for extending their reach. Neither study examined the impact of pay on effectiveness, but in the Brookings-AIR study, the district in the study with the highest pay supplements for MCL roles also achieved the highest level of math and reading gains by MCLs’ teams. MCLs earn a supplement that averages about 20% of base pay nationally; in Ector County, this ranged from 26% to 35% of base pay. Increasingly, Public Impact is helping districts and schools use designs that pay more to team teachers who extend their reach directly, and to paraprofessionals who help them, given their outstanding results on MCL-led teams. The results show us that Opportunity Culture designs can work for all adults, and their students.
- Fund pay within regular budgets. All districts in the studies funded Opportunity Culture pay supplements entirely within regular budgets.
- Provide protected in-school time and clarity about how to use it for planning, collaboration, and development. In these studies, the MCLs for whom data were available led teams with a median size of five teachers (Brookings-AIR) or four (Ector County ISD, where all MCLs were “partial-release,” meaning they continued teaching their own class[es] of record for at least part of the day). Small teams make it possible to schedule collaborative planning and development time for the whole team as well as one-on-one planning and feedback time for the MCL and each team teacher.
- Match authority and accountability to each person’s responsibilities. In the Brookings-AIR study, the two districts that assigned clear accountability to MCLs for all the students served by their teams had the strongest academic gains for MCLs. Public Impact is continuing to explore how to measure the level of authority and formal accountability.
*In this method, 0.25 standard deviations = 1 year of learning. See: Hanushek, E., Peterson, P., & Woessmann, L. (2012, Fall). Is the U.S. Catching Up? International and State Trends in Student Achievement. Education Next. Retrieved from http://hanushek.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Hanushek%2BPeterson%2BWoessmann%202012%20EdNext%2012%284%29.pdf.
Using the method, we see that converting the data into years of learning equated to an extra 0.2 to 0.8 years of learning in reading and an extra 0.3 to 0.7 years of learning in math.