Class Size Just One Way to Extend Reach of Best Teachers

By 03/02/2011

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For those of you who missed it, David Brooks’ February 28 column touted the money-saving potential of extending the best teachers’ reach, by increasing their class sizes – in exchange for more pay.  He’s not the only public figure pushing for reach extension these days. He quotes Arne Duncan’s November 2010 “New Normal” speech.  Around the same time, Bill Gates spoke about larger classes for the best teachers here. Meanwhile, others have touted another idea – online reach extension – here (pdf), here, and here.

We’re encouraged to see more talk about this concept.  But adding more kids to a great teacher’s class, or broadcasting that teacher’s lessons over the Internet, are just the most immediately available and straightforward forms of reach extension.  As my co-author Emily Ayscue Hassel and I explain in our 2009 paper 3X for All: Extending the Reach of Education’s Best (sponsored by the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation), districts and schools could do much more. We call the three major categories “in-person reach,” “remote reach” (a live person interacts with students, but from afar), and “boundless reach” (all digital delivery). These approaches suggest innovations that aren’t being batted about by opinion-makers yet, such as redesigning jobs to concentrate top teachers’ time on instruction, putting star teachers fully in charge of multiple classrooms, and using technology in combination with in-person reach extension (for one example, learn about Rocketship Education here).

The possibilities abound.  Not every teacher would be great at every type of reach extension, but nearly every great teacher would have one or more opportunities to reach more children, for more pay.   As we show in our 2010 paper Opportunity at the Top (sponsored by the Joyce Foundation), using reach extension to create paid career advancement opportunities for top-quartile teachers has the best-odds shot of getting what we all want: top-tier progress for every child, nearly every year – within budget.

What’s needed now is for more states, districts and schools to act on these ideas.  If you know of efforts to extend great teachers’ reach – by adding students to their classes or otherwise – we’d love to hear about them.

– Bryan Hassel

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