No Unions? No Problem

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

The April 2011 Center for American Progress report entitled, “Beyond Classroom Walls: Developing Innovative Work Roles for Teachers,” introduces a new line of thinking in the American public education system. The report’s primary goal was to investigate alternative staffing methods at schools, charter or public, and observe the effects of this out-of-the-box thinking and approach to education. To find schools that fit the criteria, the authors focused on schools that have undergone or experimented with alternative staffing solutions. The only two school systems that met all the criteria were the charter school Rocketship Education based in San Jose, California, and Virginia’s Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Teacher Leadership Program. They conducted profiles of both school programs, detailing the mindset behind the methodology and how it came about, as well as the school schedules that adjusted for the expanded roles of teachers.

Rocketship Education’s primary goal was to create a system that would allow for teachers to expand their roles past the classroom into the administrative arena. To compensate for more responsibility, Rocketship hires non-credentialed staff to man the program’s designated learning labs, which provide more practice and exposure for students to learn outside the classroom. Additional tutoring is offered for struggling students, and both methods are combined with 200 daily minutes of English, language arts, and social studies blocks in addition to 100 minutes of math and science blocks. Basic tasks that teachers used to manage, such as routine math drills and related daily assessments, are conducted in the learning labs, allowing teachers to focus on “higher-order tasks” in the classroom, or advanced problem solving. The Rocketship schools model, with the block schedule, allows teachers to enhance their teaching ability in specific academic fields and therefore improve their students’ comprehension and performance in that field, such as math. The purpose of the several hundred minute block classes is for fewer teachers to reach the same 100 students per day, instead of the typical limitations of public education where one extra teacher would be needed to reach the same goal. Rocketship outperforms other schools in California, including the San Jose unified district because of its model.

FCPS’ Teacher Leadership Program received grants from the district’s annual budget surplus to expand teachers’ responsibilities. It gave teachers grants to research and redefine curriculum, instruction, and pacing of class lectures that would create greater teacher collaboration and enhance outreach with parents. The grants gave these teachers the leeway and opportunity to resolve for themselves the issues they face on a daily basis, which resulted in an improvement in reading and math proficiency scores from years 2006-2010 across the district. However, at the end of the day, because of the struggling economy, the Teacher Leadership Program has been put on hold due to budget constraints. In hindsight, FCPS superintendent Jack Dale admits he should have avoided relying on temporary surpluses for the funding of the program and used a different financial approach. The program has proved to be effective, but until the budget issues are resolved, all progress will be lost.

In short, both Rocketship Education and the Fairfax County Public School Teacher Leadership Program have proven effective at raising the performance of students by expanding teachers’ roles beyond the classroom. A key component of these programs is that success was achieved without collective bargaining agreements, mandated class sizes and certification requirements. Though each school district may be unique in its  needs and issues, these two models can help American schools raise the bar of achievement for both students and teachers, and continue the American dream of education and success.

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