Bringing star teachers to high needs schools

So here’s the good news. State policymakers in Massachusetts are seeking to entice “amazing” teachers, who have proven to be effective, to pick up and teach in 35 of the state’s lowest performing schools. Hard to argue with putting great teachers with the students who need the most.

Indeed, the “hunt for star teachers” seems to have some of the markings of potent policymaking. For example, according to a recent Boston Globe report, teachers are promised “such things as additional pay or opportunities for leadership roles in overhauling curriculum.” But I have to wonder to what extent the state’s policymakers are creating an incentive plan that will really matter for the long haul.

Mounds of evidence, including our own Ford Foundation-funded research, suggests that expert teachers are willing to move to high needs schools — but ONLY if a number of working conditions are in place. These include:

  1. Effective principals who value teacher leaders and discourage teaching to the test;
  2. Expert colleagues with whom to work — because effective teaching, especially in high needs schools, requires collaboration, not individual teachers who teach as if they are the lonely but determined Caped Crusader;
  3. Access to high-quality curriculum resources (e.g., classroom libraries for elementary teachers and lab equipment for science teachers);
  4. Specialized preparation for teaching in high needs schools, since substantial evidence has proven that effective teachers in one setting are not necessarily effective in another; and
  5. Resources and strategies in place that assure what is taught in the “8 a.m. to 3 p.m.” curriculum is connected to critical “outside-of-the-school” support providers.

These working conditions are rarely considered by policy mavens who are promoting incentives to entice effective teachers to high needs schools. It’s not just “show them the money and they will come.”

I wonder if Massachusetts policymakers remember the “heralded rise” and the “neglected fall” of the state’s signing bonus program of a decade ago that earned a big red F as a strategy to entice talented teachers to high needs schools. [They can read a detailed dissection of the effort here for $4.95.]

I hope Bay State leaders have an institutional memory that stretches back that far. If so, perhaps the state’s turnaround school reform efforts will yield amazing results for students.

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