Refreshing the Vision of an Opportunity Culture—for All



By and 09/26/2013

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After decades of reform efforts, have any of the players in education really gotten what they want? Teachers still don’t get the respect and substantial rewards they deserve, and students haven’t seen big leaps in achievement. But we see a new way forward–one that focuses on excellent teachers, but takes us to a brighter future for everyone. In An Opportunity Culture for All: Making Teaching a Highly Paid, High-Impact Profession, we update our vision of an Opportunity Culture, showing how extending the reach of great teachers can start a virtuous cycle of excellence and higher pay for all teachers.

Studies prove the enormous effect that excellent teachers have on closing achievement gaps, cultivating students’ higher-order thinking, improving children’s lifelong prospects, and bolstering our national security and economic power.

However, today’s classrooms do not have enough teachers who achieve the high-growth, higher-order learning our modern economy demands—at least, not in today’s one-teacher-one-classroom mode. Studies have shown that only about 25 percent of today’s teachers produce enough progress—well over a year’s worth of learning growth in a year’s time—to help students close achievement gaps and leap ahead. Students starting behind need multiple years of these great teachers to catch up. Students starting in the middle need the same to advance to honors-level work.

Beginning in 2009, we presented a vision for addressing the challenge of reaching every student with excellent teachers, using job redesign and age-appropriate technology to extend excellent teachers’ reach, directly and by leading other teachers, in fully accountable roles, for more pay—but within budget.

Schools across the country have latched on to the need to reach more students with their excellent teachers. Districts and charter schools have begun to embrace Public Impact’s vision of an Opportunity Culture, creating pilot schools that use job redesign and age-appropriate technology to extend excellent teachers’ reach, directly and by leading other teachers, in fully accountable roles, for more pay—but within budget.

As the Public Impact team has worked with teachers on school design teams, it has become increasingly clear how extending the reach of excellent teachers starts a virtuous cycle enabling increased teacher selectivity, opportunity, and pay—for all:

Selectivity about who enters and remains in teaching becomes far easier when schools offer the engaging, developmental, financially rewarding jobs with outstanding peers that high performers want and that reach models allow. When good teachers benefit developmentally and financially from having great peers, everyone has a reason to advocate for selectivity.

Opportunity for career advancement and rigorous, on-the-job learning becomes possible when great teachers advance by collaborating with, leading, and developing other teachers in teams to reach more students (without forcing class-size increases). Co-teaching on teams where excellence is acknowledged provides authentic on-the-job learning, and it enables a team’s teaching to rise to the level of the most skilled teachers in each instructional area. Paraprofessionals scheduled correctly enable in-school collaboration time and greater reach.

Pay that is substantially higher—potentially doubling to six figures on average, within budget—becomes doable when teams reach more students than is possible in today’s one-teacher-one-classroom mode, and when schools shift other spending to teacher pay. Using less-costly paraprofessionals to save teachers time for reach and shifting academic resource teachers back into fully accountable teaching roles both lead to higher teacher pay. In this brief, the Hassels also call for a national commitment to reallocating other existing and new spending to higher teacher pay, which together with reach models can make teaching a six-figure profession.

An Opportunity Culture using new school models that extend excellent teachers’ reach makes achieving this new vision possible, particularly when tailored to allow all teachers to succeed in teams—increasing the odds of widespread improvement in teaching and learning.

These aren’t your mother’s teams: They keep a relentless focus on leadership by proven excellent teachers, who are accountable for the learning of all the students taught by their teams and for rigorous on-the-job development of team teachers. Team teachers can earn more on efficient teams, and teacher-leaders can earn far more for their leadership.

With these changes in selectivity, opportunity, and pay, our nation could go from giving no one what’s needed to giving everyone what they want: for teachers, sustainable, well-paid career advancement, rigorous development on the job, and whole careers’ worth of engaging work; for students, excellent teaching for all, consistently, increasing their lifelong prospects; and for the broader community, an improved economy, national security, and social stability. That’s an Opportunity Culture for all.

—Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel




Comment on this article
  • Clay Forsberg says:

    Your piece makes complete sense. In theory, higher pay and increased opportunity will attract better talent. But that assumes that these potentially better teachers are allowed to use their talents.

    This is where the problem lies however. Obsessive standardized testing and national standards stand squarely in the way of these teachers teaching the way they potentially could.

    A good teacher needs flexibility to tailor their methods and content around the needs and diversity of the classroom – as well as their geographic location. The current agenda of the federal administration (Obama and Duncan) speaks to just the opposite.

    Again, nice piece. But unfortunately unless we allow flexibility in the classroom … it’s irrelevant.

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