This is a response to Nancy Flanagan’s misleading post on her Education Week blog about the Opportunity Culture work, dated May 5, 2012.
Wow! Let us start by strongly urging any readers of Ms. Flanagan’s write up of the Opportunity Culture idea to take a look at Public Impact’s actual materials at www.OpportunityCulture.org. Or if you’re in a hurry, see the infographic here https://opportunityculture.org/infographic/. If you’re a good teacher who wants to grow to excellence, an excellent teacher who wants to help more students, or a school leader who wants to help those teachers, see if there are ideas there that can help you and your school improve. See what we’re really proposing, rather than Ms. Flanagan’s surprisingly bitter caricature.
Here’s what we have in mind: schools that want excellence in every classroom give teachers who’ve demonstrated success voluntary, paid opportunities to help more students. Use a wide variety of models to do that, ones that you think might work in your schools – the 20+ that we’ve laid out, but also others that teachers themselves devise. As long as excellent, accountable teachers help more students – and get paid for it – within available budgets, we’re eager to see educators try many approaches.
In suggesting these strategies, we aren’t, as Ms. Flanagan asserts, “disparaging” the goal of “making more excellent teachers.” In fact, we actively encourage schools to think about how to reallocate teachers’ time, not just to reach more students, but for other goals like professional development, team collaboration and planning. It’s not either-or: school design teams will need to reallocate time for goals and approaches that fit their values and needs. For example, elementary schools that let teachers specialize and have kids learn digitally for just about an hour per day can create 8 hours of time weekly for teachers to collaborate and plan. Secondary schools can add 3 – 4 hours per week of planning / collaboration time using similar tactics. See our school models to learn more.
Ms. Flanagan emphasizes a couple of the approaches we explore – simple increases in class sizes and remotely located teachers filling gaps that schools can’t fill with in-person excellent teachers. But teams of educators working in schools, not Ms. Flanagan, need to decide which approaches will work best for their students and teachers. We’d be shocked if such a team would take the extreme step that worries Ms. Flanagan – raising 1st grade class sizes from 20 to 34. But that team might well devise other ways for an excellent 1st grade teacher to help more than 20 students. We go out of our way to note that design teams must make choices that fit the students’ ages (and other characteristics) and teachers, since these options might apply differently to elementary and secondary schools and different student groups.
As for her assertion that we’re “glorifying remote delivery of content” – of course we’d all prefer in-person excellent teachers. Remote delivery only makes sense when that’s not an option – as it isn’t for far too many students today, especially in specialized and advanced subjects and schools with devastating teacher shortages, such as in many rural areas.
Ms. Flanagan doesn’t even mention the many other ways great teachers could help more students – like specializing in their best subjects and roles, leading and developing teams of other educators to provide excellent instruction in multiple classrooms, or using age-appropriate amounts of digital learning to free their time to teach more students and focus on higher-order learning. See here for an overview of all the models.
Perhaps she thought they might sound a little too attractive to accomplished teachers. Or that when you see this whole package, it’s obvious our proposals have nothing to do with Ms. Flanagan’s bugaboos, like “privatizing services” or “plugging charters.” Huh?
Equally troubling about her post, though, is how eager Ms. Flanagan seems to cast doubt on the notion that teachers vary in their effectiveness, which she calls a “faux statistic.” Of course, measuring teacher effectiveness presents challenges, and our work encourages schools to define excellence in well-rounded ways. But repeated research by respected academics leaves little doubt that teachers differ in the learning they enable their students to achieve. Today, excellent teachers just don’t get to help more kids (or to earn more money). And that goes for non-tested grades and subjects as well. We’re not just talking, as Ms. Flanagan inaccurately asserts, about the top 25 percent within each school. But within a district or state, why not recognize excellent teachers and give them the chance to help more students, help other teachers learn the craft, and earn more? Today, these opportunities are all too rare, contrary to Ms. Flanagan’s assertion that districts have been doing this kind of thing “all along.”
Indeed, if schools are doing this and not paying teachers more, teachers stand up: schools are picking your pockets, and you deserve more. Take a look at the rest of OpportunityCulture.org. We welcome genuine feedback about what works for you and what else you need to build an Opportunity Culture for teachers and children.
If teachers achieving excellence gain more power over school cultures, and the ability to help more students and peers learn to achieve similarly, a culture of “excellence by all” will take root. We hope this will enable much broader autonomy and respect for teachers, akin to nations like Finland that are highly selective about who can teach.