District’s Human Capital Strategies Develop Teachers and Produce Results

By Joel Knudson, Researcher, AIR, Nov 12, 2013

A new case study of California’s Garden Grove Unified School District tells the complicated but important story of a comprehensive approach to improving teaching. The case study, published by the California Collaborative on District Reform, found that the district’s relentless focus on supporting teachers from recruitment through retirement to ensure good outcomes for its diverse students pays off.

Garden Grove’s students are from groups that too rarely have had access to great teachers. Forty percent are English learners, 11 percent qualify for special education services, 72 percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and most are Latino or Vietnamese. But Garden Grove consistently attracts and develops high-quality educators and, as a result, its student results eclipse those of its California peers. On the fourth-grade California Standards Test (CST) in mathematics, for example, only 15 of the district’s 3,448 fourth-graders scored far below basic in the 2011–12 school year. The district’s ability to improve student outcomes while serving a disadvantaged student population earned it the 2004 Broad Prize for Urban Education.

How is Garden Grove pulling it off? District leaders didn’t so much choose the right program or push the right button but, instead, put people at the center of nonstop collaboration aimed at ever better teacher performance. Garden Grove’s strategies to get the best teachers include the following:

  • Approaches to recruitment and student teaching that give district leaders extensive opportunities to prepare, observe, and assess the quality and potential of teaching candidates
  • A hiring and placement process that emphasizes skills and dispositions that will enable teachers to work collaboratively, constantly improve their craft, and contribute to student learning
  • An induction program that prepares new teachers for the district’s expectations for instruction and professional culture, including multiple opportunities to receive feedback
  • An affirmative approach to granting tenure—selecting quality teachers to remain in the district after their second year, rather than retaining teachers by default
  • The provision of professional learning and embedded instructional support and feedback, which promotes teacher development
  • A compensation system that attracts quality candidates by offering competitive salaries and rewards teachers for contributions to improved instruction

As recently retired Superintendent Laura Schwalm liked to say, “You’re never going to be a better district than the teachers in your classrooms.” It is that shared belief—coupled with a  comprehensive approach to human capital management—that has made the difference.

So how can educators get the same results in their schools and districts? One place to start developing that comprehensive approach is the new-and-improved Moving Toward Equity interactive online tool  from the GTL Center. This tool helps district focus on the equitable distribution of high-quality teachers so every student has access to truly great teaching and leading in every classroom. Education leaders, agency staff, and administrators of education preparation program can use this tool to set priorities, find and weigh strategies, and discover resources with examples to inform their work.  There’s lots in there, so dig around!

Also, let’s go beyond district human capital management to grapple with the underlying factors that affect equitable access to great teachers. In the recent 2013 AERA Brown Lecture, UCLA professor Gary Orfield passionately argued that although making sure low-income and minority students have well-prepared and experienced teachers (as Garden Grove does) is key to ensuring their basic civil rights, removing the barriers that cause racially and economically segregated schools and districts in the first place is just as important.

Great teaching and leading for all students is imperative (and hard enough), but it's not sufficient to resolve social and educational inequalities. How can we connect educators with leaders from other institutions to address these serious inequalities?

Please share your thoughts.

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