Speaking of Equity

By Cheryl Pruce, Jessica Giffin, Ellen Sherratt, and Jane Coggshall, GTL Center Staff, Oct 29, 2013

A small contingent of GTL Center staff attended Education Trust’s 2013 National Conference, “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Results” on October 24–25. Here we share a couple of takeaways related to equitable access to great teachers and leaders.

In her opening plenary, Kati Haycock put it starkly: Inequality is growing, and it’s harder to have a better life than your parents did in the United States, compared to every other developed country in the world save one. And inequitable access to great teachers fuels this inequality. As long as we have a teacher quality gap, Haycock reminded the crowd, we will have a student achievement gap.

In some sessions, educators discussed how they are ensuring access to great teachers and leaders. Tisha Edwards, interim chief of Baltimore City Public Schools, and Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, talked openly about how hard it is to build a partnership and work together to attract, develop, and retain great teachers for Baltimore public school students. They joked about the need for a psychologist on hand and lots of cookies on the table, but they agreed that a genuinely held and shared respect for teachers as well as a willingness to keep talking despite disagreement is central to making changes that upset the status quo—which in Baltimore includes an alternative compensation system.

In another session, staff from Guilford County Schools (Greensboro, North Carolina) talked about their Mission Possible program to reduce the teacher attrition rate in their high-need schools. The district used spot bonuses for teachers with historically high value-added scores, incentives for teaching in hard-to-staff positions, schoolwide awards, and professional development courses tied to their teacher evaluation system. Positive results have ranged from reduced teacher shortages and reduced teacher turnover to growth in student test scores and improved graduation rates.

Coaching was highlighted as a good way to achieve equity as well. Staff from the Academy for Urban School Leadership demonstrated the technology they use for active coaching of new teachers “in the moment” of teaching. Swivel cameras follow the practicing teacher, allowing a mentor to watch from another room and provide real-time feedback through an earpiece. Innovative approaches like these show real promise, but they take resources and know-how. How we can make sure that all teachers have access to such supports?

Finally, the Education Trust team did what needs doing more often: It celebrated the educators who serve equity every day. Their stories ought to be told and told more often, without forgetting the students who don’t have access to such teams of dedicated professionals.

Now it’s your turn. We want to hear your thoughts.

  • What do you think of these suggestions for building equity?
  • Did you attend the conference? Is so, what were your key takeaways? 

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