Moving Toward Equitable Access: New Teaching Roles Attract Great Teachers

In late 2011, Denise Watts, a superintendent at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, was looking for help meeting her goals as executive director for the new Project L.I.F.T. (Leadership and Investment for Transformation), a $55 million public-private partnership to improve academics at historically low-performing, high-need schools in western Charlotte, N.C.

High-need schools typically have trouble attracting and keeping enough great teachers, yet their students who are already starting behind need teachers who consistently produce high-growth learning. Even if these schools had an average number of great teachers, it would not be enough: These students need great teachers every year. “If we didn’t try something truly different to change education, many of my students were not going to graduate,” Watts said.

Watts approached Public Impact, a partner in the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders. Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture initiative highlights the potential of using technology and redesigning teachers’ jobs to ensure excellent teachers—with better pay—for more students, and within budget. In this initiative, Watts saw a way to reach her ambitious goals, including raising West Charlotte High School’s graduation rate from 54 percent in 2011 to 90 percent in 2016.

The case study Charlotte, N.C.’s Project L.I.F.T.: New Teaching Roles Create Culture of Excellence in High-Need Schools explains the “truly different” things that Project L.I.F.T. did to redesign four of the area’s eight feeder schools using Opportunity Culture models and principles. The study details the steps that these schools took and the challenges they faced as they prepared to kick off the initiative at the beginning of the 2013–14 school year. (See one teacher’s take on becoming a paid teacher-leader.)

These four schools collectively became the first Opportunity Culture site, and for the past year, each school’s design team worked diligently to identify which of the more than 20 Opportunity Culture school models would work best at their school. The design teams were seeking not just greater reach of already excellent teachers and higher pay but also more school-hour time for collaboration, planning, and development to allow whole teaching teams to produce excellent outcomes for far more students. In different combinations at each school, they chose models such as Multi-Classroom Leadership, Subject Specialization, and Time-Technology Swaps, as well as one school’s variation on the swap, a “Time-Time Swap.”

For example, Ranson Middle School (an International Baccalaureate school) will use a combination of models:

  • In English language arts, social studies, and science classes, multi-classroom leaders will instruct students directly and lead small teams of two novice or developing teachers and one paraprofessional.
  • In math classes, excellent blended-learning teachers will use the rotation version of Time-Technology Swaps to extend their reach to more students. They also will work with a team of developing and novice teachers on their way to becoming blended-learning teachers. A multi-classroom leader will lead all math teachers.

Recruitment for the new, extended-reach teaching positions drew a flood of 708 applicants from 24 states for 19 new positions. Candidates included current teachers—60 percent of whom had more than five years of teaching experience—as well as administrators, facilitators, coaches, and even staff in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s district office.

All the schools had to design models that adhered to Opportunity Culture’s five reach-extension principles, which call for excellent teachers reaching more students, higher pay, sustainable funding, job-embedded development opportunity, and enhanced authority and clear accountability.

In sum, new school staffing models that break the one-teacher-per-classroom mold may be a powerful tool to ensure equitable access to effective teachers. They are not only proving to be effective in attracting great teachers to schools that need them the most, but also enabling them to reach more students when they are there. Charlotte-Mecklenburg leaders are eager to see how teachers implement these models, how student learning outcomes change, and how these opportunities impact teacher retention.

From the editors:

Now it’s your turn. We want to hear your thoughts on the following:

  • How important is it in terms of improving equitable access for design teams that include teachers within each school to choose their school’s model of extended reach, like the schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg did?
  • The district received a flood of applicants for new teaching positions in schools where recruiting is often difficult. As more schools adopt models for extending the reach of excellent teachers, what is your prediction about whether paid opportunities for teacher career advancement like the ones in these schools will produce similar interest nationwide?

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