Frequently Asked Questions in an Opportunity Culture

Teaching in an Opportunity Culture

How do you define an “excellent” teacher?
• What if more than 25 percent of teachers in my school are excellent?
• Do only 25 percent of teachers benefit from these models?

How are teachers held accountable for the results of all the students
for whom they are responsible?

Are teachers held accountable for any other important aspects of
a child’s education beyond test scores?

New School Models in an Opportunity Culture

How are these models different from what we’re already doing in my
school, like grade-level chairs, master and mentor teacher roles, larger
classes, and technology?

Will these models take away from the teamwork and collaboration that are so important in my school?
Does reach extension create more work?
How can we adequately support our students’ social and emotional
growth while teaching more students?

• Do some of these models force teachers to work fewer hours for lower pay?
• Why would anyone—teachers or parents—want students to have remotely located teachers? Don’t all students deserve in-person teaching?

Job Roles and Career Advancement in an Opportunity Culture

Multi-Classroom Leadership

Do multi-classroom leaders teach their own classes?
What kind of training will multi-classroom leaders receive?
Aren’t multi-classroom leaders just like coaches?
What does the schedule look like for a multi-classroom leader?
How many hours does a multi-classroom leader work?

Team Teachers

How do team teachers advance into a multi-classroom leader role?
Will I be paid the same as a team teacher as I am now as a classroom teacher?
What about teachers who have taught for a long time and make significantly
more than a beginning classroom teacher—if they are assigned the role of
team teacher, will their pay be cut?

What if a team teacher disagrees with her multi-classroom leader’s
philosophies or strategies?

Does a team teacher work fewer hours than a multi-classroom leader?

Subject Specialization

Haven’t studies shown specialization to be harmful at the elementary level?
How will we ensure valuable time isn’t wasted in transition from class to class?
How is it fair to judge me on student test scores when I work with such a difficult population?
Does an Opportunity Culture pertain to me if I’m not a classroom teacher?

Time Swaps

• Are students doing digital learning with minimal teacher involvement?
• Are students just working on whatever they want to do during digital time?

Other Teachers

How can these models help PE, music, and art teachers?

Technology in an Opportunity Culture

Are you saying that technology and blended-learning models alone will solve our nation’s student achievement problems? Are you trying to sell us software?
How can teachers stay connected to their students and support their social
and emotional growth if students are spending more time online, and teachers
are held accountable for many more students?
• How can schools that are already struggling financially pay for technology-based models?

Other Opportunity Culture Questions

Is this initiative anti-union or against increases in overall school funding?

 

Answers

Teaching in an Opportunity Culture

How do you define an “excellent” teacher?

The most important question is this: Which teachers do you wish every student could have, every year? What outcomes do they produce? What other qualities do they have? If you can identify these, and start measuring them, then you can reach more students with these outcomes and qualities.

  • Research shows that the top 20 to 25 percent of teachers produce about a year and a half of progress annually with students on average. With those excellent teachers, students who start a year behind can catch up—if they have a top teacher for two consecutive years. Students who start two years behind can catch up if they have a top teacher four years in a row. And students who catch up can leap ahead to advanced learning every year thereafter that they have an excellent teacher. These are the kinds of results schools need consistently to close gaps and enable students to leap ahead.
  • Based on these findings, we set one starting guideline: “Excellent” teachers are those in the top one-fourth of teachers in comparable subjects and grades in a state or nationally, measured by student learning growth.  The more consistently a teacher achieves results at that level, the better: Producing learning outcomes with increasing consistency, with varying students in varying situations, is one aspect of excellence. While results may vary from year to year, or class to class at the secondary level, research indicates that teachers tend to perform fairly consistently. That said, with the right personal commitment and development opportunities, any teacher can improve, and most of our school models provide new opportunities for collaborative teams and professional development.
  • Research indicates that teachers who produce high-progress learning in math and reading also develop students’ higher-order thinking skills. Many jobs require creative, conceptual, and problem-solving skills, and these skills can bring joy and satisfaction to both academic pursuits and work. With excellent teachers consistently, all students can have hope they will be prepared for good jobs requiring differing combinations of knowledge, skills, problem-solving abilities, and creative thinking.
  • As in any job, hitting the numbers is just one measure. Schools will want to reflect on their own definitions of teacher and student success, and include measures that help teachers select the right roles and career advancement paths. Measures in addition to student learning growth might include teachers’ behavioral competencies, contributions to the school community, contributions to peer performance, strength of parent relationships, parent and student ratings, development of students’ higher-order thinking skills, and development of students’ supporting behaviors: social, emotional, and organizational skills (time and task management).
  • Many of these measures can be correlated with student learning growth in tested grades and subjects—and then used reliably to identify and determine career paths for teachers in untested grades and subjects. Some schools may choose to start reach extension in grades and subjects that already have reliable standardized tests. Some schools may choose to use reliable tests or exams not required by the state to compare teachers within the school or district.

• What if more than 25 percent of teachers in my school are excellent?

That’s great! Your school should be able to move to a full implementation faster, with all teachers on Opportunity Culture teams. This will allow higher pay increases for more teachers faster, and it will boost the outcomes of all staff to work collaboratively with such outstanding colleagues.

• Do only 25 percent of teachers benefit from these models?

No, when implemented fully in most schools, these models pay all teachers more, with additional supplements for those who also can lead teams to produce excellent outcomes for multiple classes of students.

How are teachers held accountable for the results of all the students for whom they are responsible?

Great teachers who help more students, directly or by leading peers, should get credit for their expanded impact. Districts and schools must change their reporting of student results to reflect teachers’ responsibility for students, so that all students for whom that teacher is accountable are included in the teacher’s evaluation. Early adopters are simply changing reports that are already available to teachers and school leaders. As districts implement this, they will need to develop more flexible accountability systems so that teachers and leaders can have timely information about the students for whom they are responsible.

Are teachers held accountable for any other important aspects of a child’s education beyond test scores?

This will vary according to the evaluation system in each school and district. Some are moving toward accountability systems that include multiple measures of student academic learning, other aspects of student development, and teachers’ other contributions to the school community.

 

New School Models in an Opportunity Culture

How are these models different from what we’re already doing in my school, like grade-level chairs, master and mentor teacher roles, larger classes, and technology?

All of our school models include enhanced authority and clear accountability/credit for the learning of more students. With the exception of simple class-size increases, the models enable schedule changes that provide time during the day for planning, team collaboration, and development. All the models differ from today’s practices because they enable paying teachers more for helping more students (and peer teachers), within budget.

Multi-Classroom Leadership: Reach-extension designs that incorporate the Multi-Classroom Leadership model may look a lot like mentor teacher or grade-level chair roles in many schools today. The key differences are that teacher-leaders in a reach-extension school:

  • have been identified as “excellent” or “highly effective” based on student learning results and other factors, such as their competence in leading and developing other adults;
  • have authority over the other teachers and staff members on their team, with responsibility for making the best use of everyone’s talents, including role assignment, selection of materials and instructional methods, professional development, evaluation, and (with the principal) dismissal; and
  • are fully accountable for student learning results achieved by each teacher and staff member working on their team.

Models using technology: Time-Technology Swaps and models using remotely located teachers may employ technologies and software similar to those used in many schools today. The key difference is that they do not rely on these technologies alone to improve student learning; instead, they use technology as a tool to free excellent teachers’ time to reach more students and to free all teachers’ time to spend more time on differentiated and higher-order learning, collaborate with and develop peers, and focus on their greatest areas of instructional strength. Using technology in this way also allows schools to pay teachers more, within budget.

Subject specialization: Some elementary schools already have teachers who specialize in core subjects. But in our models, teachers specialize in their best subjects. Schools also relieve these teachers of other instructional and administrative duties, freeing time for planning, collaboration, and development, and for reaching more students without increasing class sizes. Finally, in Elementary Subject Specialization using reach models, schools can pay teachers more, within budget.

Class-size changes: Many schools assign students to particular teachers or assign more or fewer students to certain teachers based on student needs and/or individual teachers’ capacity to handle more children. Class-size change models are not entirely unlike this common practice. The key differences are that class-size change models:

  • shift students strategically to teachers who have been identified as “excellent” or highly effective, and who are willing to take on larger classes
  • pay those teachers more
  • reduce class loads for other teachers who may produce better outcomes with a smaller class  (class-size shifting)
  • cultivate a culture of teaching excellence among all staff to provide opportunities for any teacher who excels to take on more students (within reasonable limits) for more pay.

Note that few early-implementing pilot schools have chosen this model by itself. Although it requires the least change in school processes, it maintains the one-teacher-one-classroom mode, and does not create a natural team of teachers who can help one another succeed.

Will these models take away from the teamwork and collaboration that are so important in my school?

With the exception of class-size changes, the reach-extension models build teamwork and collaboration into the school day—very different from “requiring” collaboration in a one-teacher-one-classroom model. For example, frequent communication, co-planning, and partnership are essential in the Multi-Classroom Leadership model, in which a teacher-leader engages a team of teachers working together to achieve excellent outcomes for all students. Similarly, collaboration between classroom teachers, digital lab monitors, and tutors (in Time-Technology Swaps); between on-site teachers and remotely located teachers (in remote models); and between various subject teachers and learning coaches (Elementary Subject Specialization) is critical to develop students’ full range of academic, social, emotional, and time-management skills.

In today’s one-teacher-one-classroom mode, many hard-working teachers feel overwhelmed: They are not achieving the success they would like with all students. But the opportunities created by reach extension make it more possible for these teachers to contribute to excellent outcomes immediately by taking on a more manageable load (such as smaller classes, a subject in which they excel, or an instructional role where they are particularly strong) and/or by playing team roles under the leadership of already-excellent teachers. Working side by side with excellent teachers who lead and develop them, many solid teachers can achieve excellence and gain new opportunities to expand their reach and advance their careers, too.

Does reach extension create more work?

With the exception of class-size changes, reach-extension models actually can free more of excellent teachers’ time than the staffing models and schedules used in most schools today.

Teachers’ “newly found” time can be used to reach more students. It also can be used to increase teachers’ planning time; engage in relevant professional development; and increase job flexibility (part-time work and work from home, for example) without decreasing the number of students reached.

Schools can save excellent teachers even more time by coupling models of reach extension with time-saving technologies, delegating noninstructional tasks to paraprofessionals, and using other time-saving tactics that help excellent teachers do what they do so well with more students.

How can we adequately support our students’ social and emotional growth while teaching more students?

When implemented correctly, most reach models actually give teachers more time to focus on these needs than today’s traditional arrangements. We all know that sometimes teachers notice a problem or opportunity but do not have the time to reflect on it or the help to figure out what to do for the student. Most Opportunity Culture models provide scheduled time for teachers to collaborate and determine how to help each student during the school day. Schools must determine how much to limit their teachers’ increased reach to ensure that they get this extra planning time to reflect on and plan for meeting more students’ needs.

In team models such as Multi-Classroom Leadership, Elementary Specialization, or Time-Technology Swaps, a team of adults is jointly accountable for each student, but with individual teachers responsible for nurturing a set of students and communicating with the rest of the team and parents about concerns. We all know that teachers click better with some students than others or serve some needs better than others. Teaching teams allow teachers to divide and nurture their students accordingly.

  • In Multi-Classroom Leadership, the team monitors not only students’ academic pr0ogress but also their social, emotional, and organizational skills. The Multi-Classroom Leader ensures that each team teacher is responsible for the development of a specified set of students, and that the team has scheduled time to share information and concerns about each student (for example, while students are in art, PE, or music, lunch and recess, or digital learning). If a student is slipping academically or having new or more serious behavioral or social issues, the team will have time to share that information and determine how to follow up with the student and parents.
  • In Elementary Specialization, ELA/social studies specialists typically have at least 14 hours each week with each of their classes of students; math/science specialists have at least eight hours each week, ensuring time to get to know each child. This model can also include time for the team to identify student needs and collaboratively determine how to follow up with students and parents.
  • See also the answer below about students working in a Time-Technology Swap (or blended-learning) model.

In remote-instruction models at the secondary level, in which teachers work remotely—either down the hall or across the country, teaching through the aid of such technology as webcams and email—students will have one or more on-site adults who are responsible for each student’s overall development and communicating with parents about social, emotional, or organizational challenges.

Do some of these models force teachers to work fewer hours for lower pay?

No. Part-time and limited-hours roles may be available for individuals who choose them when needed to manage challenging stages of parenting, eldercare, or other time-consuming personal commitments.

Why would anyone—teachers or parents—want students to have remotely located teachers? Don’t all students deserve in-person teaching?

In most situations, in-person teaching should be a school’s first choice. But all students deserve access to great teaching, no matter where they live and attend school.

When a school does not have a teacher well qualified to teach a subject, or when it would have access to a really great teacher remotely, the school design team may choose to give students access to a great remotely located teacher. For example, a rural school might consider remotely located teachers in advanced math, science, and world languages—any subject with a shortage of great or qualified local teachers. Urban schools might consider remotely located teachers for advanced classes that they would not otherwise be able to offer to ambitious students. Students might take these as a class with paraprofessional supervision, or, when few students have the same need, as individuals with in-person supervision in a digital lab or study hall.

Remotely located teachers can serve students well in many ways, especially as an alternative to the purely online classes that are now some students’ only choice for certain subjects. Districts may be using purely online classes now when they cannot find a teacher for a specific subject, or for a course with only a few students enrolled—but these classes rarely offer selectivity about who teaches, real accountability for those teachers, or a close communication connection between the teachers of record and students.

In contrast, remotely located teachers in an Opportunity Culture are accountable for their students’ learning, and interact live, though not in person, with students. Even in urban/suburban districts that may be easier to staff than rural districts, a great advanced math teacher, for example, may be only a few miles away—still in the community, but extending her excellent teaching to students at multiple local high schools using technology.

While a remotely located teacher may in some cases be the best option for some elementary students, we anticipate that this model will be best suited to secondary school for the foreseeable future.

 

Job Roles and Career Advancement in an Opportunity Culture

Multi-Classroom Leadership

Do multi-classroom leaders teach their own classes?

Multi-classroom leaders are assigned a student load that allows them to lead the team as well as teach, though they may not “own” one class; they are fully accountable for the learning outcomes of all the students in their pod. Multi-classroom leaders select and assign teaching roles both to themselves and their team based on the strengths of each team member to meet the needs of each student, making the best use of their teachers’ talents and paraprofessional support staff.

What kind of training will multi-classroom leaders receive?

This will vary according to the school. Several promising programs are emerging to train leaders, and some districts and charter school networks may develop their own training programs. We anticipate great strides in training within the next few years, so more excellent teachers will be able to lead and develop their peers to excellence rapidly.

Aren’t multi-classroom leaders just like coaches?

Unlike most coaches, multi-classroom leaders are fully accountable for the results of all the students assigned to them and their team—and they continue to teach as well. Additionally, many will have authority to select and evaluate their teammates, and determine additional career advancement opportunities for them. Additional pay for this advanced role does not  depend on grants.

What does the schedule look like for a multi-classroom leader?

This will vary among schools, based on the roles the leaders assign to themselves and their teammates, as well as other factors such as the inclusion of blended learning or special subjects. In all cases, though, schools will build in time during the school day for the leaders to plan and to collaborate with their teams.

How many hours does a multi-classroom leader work?

Our goal is to build as much planning time into the school day as is feasible. Schools should monitor their leaders’ hours to make sure pay reflects the typical increase in workload for this role.

Team Teachers

How do team teachers advance into a multi-classroom leader role?

Team teachers in each pod have the chance to play a variety of roles of varying difficulty and breadth as the teacher-leader helps them discover their strengths and address weaknesses. Teachers who excel in a wide range of teaching tasks, are strong contributors to their team, and show leadership abilities become candidates for expanding their reach through managing multiple classrooms or other advanced roles.

Will I be paid the same as a team teacher as I am now as a classroom teacher? What about teachers who have taught for a long time and make significantly more than a beginning classroom teacher—if they are assigned the role of team teacher, will their pay be cut?

We expect that team teachers will follow a pay progression similar to teachers entering the classroom today under a traditional model. However, teachers’ individual progressions will be based on their increasing capabilities, contribution to the team’s student outcomes, and their ability to reach more students successfully with excellence. These are the factors that will determine career advancement and associated pay. We expect teachers progressing in team models to earn much higher average pay than teachers do today, and our financial models show how all teachers can earn more in some cases.

We do not expect most districts at this time to cut experienced teachers’ pay, nor do we advocate for this.

What if a team teacher disagrees with her multi-classroom leader’s philosophies or strategies?

We encourage schools implementing this model to focus on assigning team members who will work effectively with each multi-classroom leader. Then, the leader must establish roles and work routines that fit the philosophy, values, and student learning goals of the school.

Team members will be expected to use the instructional strategies and materials selected by the teacher-leader who has previously produced excellent outcomes, but they will also have opportunities to provide input and improve these strategies and materials with the team.

Does a team teacher work fewer hours than a multi-classroom leader?

This will depend on how schools implement this model. U.S. teachers working now in traditional models work an average of 50 to 55 hours weekly. Some multi-classroom models may include positions that allow for a workweek shorter than 50 hours in exchange for lower pay.

We encourage schools implementing this model to track the hours of both their team teachers and multi-classroom leaders to ensure that pay is appropriate for their level of responsibility and workload.

Subject Specialization

Haven’t studies shown specialization to be harmful at the elementary level?

We’re not aware of any research that shows specialization to be harmful. On the contrary, research indicates that if all elementary teachers specialized in their best subjects, student learning would improve significantly. Early implementers of specialization such as Rocketship Education have achieved outstanding student learning in high-poverty schools with no indicators of harm to students. Some students may benefit from having multiple adults spend significant time with them each week in instruction, as teachers would in our Elementary Subject Specialization model. Different students connect well with different teachers, and having two or more teachers can provide multiple chances for a good emotional connection for more students each year. Remember: In the elementary specialization model, core subject teachers still spend many hours with each class each week, far more than at the secondary level.

How will we ensure valuable time isn’t wasted in transition from class to class?

Schools may choose to have their teachers rotate from class to class, rather than moving the students. When students are moving among classes, as they already do for art, music, PE, lunch, recess, library time, and computer time, schools can use their established routines for orderly and efficient movement of students.

How is it fair to judge me on student test scores when I work with such a difficult population?

We encourage schools and districts to use multiple measures, focus on student growth, and organize school time so that teaching teams can co-solve the most difficult instructional and student behavior challenges together.

Does an Opportunity Culture pertain to me if I’m not a classroom teacher?

We encourage schools to include as many members of the school staff as possible in their development of an Opportunity Culture.

Time Swaps

• Are students doing digital learning with minimal teacher involvement?

No, not at all. Students are with teachers every day. In elementary school, students are with teachers face to face for most of the day. They may be in a digital lab for an hour, but even some of that time may be spent on teacher-assigned projects, tutoring, and offline skills practice, in an environment conducive to learning. In secondary school, students in a core class may alternate days in a digital lab (such as Monday, Wednesday, and every other Friday) with face-to-face instruction, but that face-to-face time can then focus on higher-order learning. And, as at the elementary level, some of that lab time may be spent on independent, offline work and tutoring.

• Are students just working on whatever they want to do during digital time?

No. Teachers direct the content that students are learning each day. This may be done by providing a week of learning activities for each student to accomplish or with day-by-day assignments that change based on the previous day’s learning progress. Even when programs use adaptive software, teachers must guide learning, just as they do when students are in the class with the teacher. Paraprofessional lab monitors are part of the instructional team, and they have the assignments for each student, too.

Other Teachers

• How can these models help PE, music, and art teachers?

We have not yet worked with teachers in these areas to redesign roles for reach extension, pay, and widespread excellence. Meanwhile, however, we value these subjects enormously. When core subject teachers implement the models schoolwide, the savings are significant enough that a school could choose to pay other teachers a supplement as well. The pay for Opportunity Culture team teachers and leaders would decline somewhat, of course, unless the school reallocated additional resources to pay more. We encourage each school’s design team to consider this issue.

 

Technology in an Opportunity Culture

Are you saying that technology and blended-learning models alone will solve our nation’s student achievement problems? Are you trying to sell us software?

This is not a virtual or blended-learning initiative. It is a new approach to the way schools use talent, time, and technology with the primary goal of providing every student with consistent access to excellent teachers in charge of learning. A significant body of research shows that teachers are the single most important school-based factor affecting student achievement. In an Opportunity Culture, technology is just a tool for enabling more of the best teachers to reach more students successfully. As technology improves, it also may contribute to better student learning directly.

  • Time-Technology Swaps and remote reach-extension models may employ technologies and software similar to those used in many schools today. The key difference is that they do not rely on these technologies alone to improve student learning; they use technology as a tool to free excellent teachers’ time to reach more students, and to allow all teachers to spend more time on differentiated and higher-order learning and focus on their greatest areas of strength. When great teachers control the use of digital learning, they can ensure that it is well-used to fit the needs of their students, just as they do with other materials and teaching tools. When they can earn more and help their teams succeed, they have even more reason to ensure great use of technology.
  • Public Impact does not have a financial interest in any technology or school vendor. We do not sell any technology packages nor endorse specific vendors. We sometimes write case studies, but we do not have financial interests in the organizations we profile. Instead, we publicly press all technology and digital instruction providers to pursue true excellence for students.

How can teachers stay connected to their students and support their social and emotional growth if students are spending more time online, and teachers are held accountable for many more students?

At the elementary level:

  • Time-Technology Swaps limit the amount of time students are online, ensuring that teachers have time to develop the whole child. For example, elementary students in a team-teaching model with four classes would be in the digital lab for only about an hour per day. Some students will be online even less, as they work during that time on projects or with tutors who are student teachers or trained paraprofessionals. Meanwhile, teachers will have built-in time during the school day to identify student needs and collaboratively determine how to follow up with students and parents.

At the secondary level:

  • Schools must determine how much to limit teachers’ student loads to ensure that teachers get extra planning time to reflect on and plan for meeting more students’ needs. Teachers can increase their reach in just a few of their class periods, leaving them with several extra free periods for planning and follow-up each week while their students are working online. Thus Time-Tech Swaps do not need to maximize a teacher’s reach, but instead should build in time to monitor students’ progress, behavior, and other indicators of social, emotional, and organizational development.

How can schools that are already struggling financially pay for technology-based models?

Our financial analyses on Time-Technology Swaps include new investment in technology. The savings in these schools are so great that even with the purchase of new computers and software every year, schools can still pay teachers significantly more. Our modeling does not show 1:1 computer: student ratios, but instead shows enough to add computer labs and software for a Time-Technology Swap—Rotation schoolwide. In our financial analysis, we show scenarios for relatively under-resourced schools at the bottom of the pay supplement ranges. Schools with almost no existing technology might need additional strategies, such as using free software at first, or adding a new digital lab each year over several years, increasing the labs grade by grade or subject by subject. Temporary funding to cover initial facilities changes and hardware purchases would allow schoolwide implementation faster.

Other Opportunity Culture Questions

Is this initiative anti-union or against increases in overall school funding?

No and no. With the exception of simple class-size increases, the reach models do not necessarily reduce the number of staff positions, and many newly created positions may become unionized. The models allow teachers to earn more. Schools and districts with differing levels of funding may make different choices about how to change staffing levels and how to allocate funds saved in these models, based on budgetary realities and their commitment to recognizing teachers’ excellence, leadership, and student impact. Improved student performance and attractiveness of teaching to ambitious college graduates may eventually increase public will to fund education at higher levels. Some research indicates that improved student outcomes will boost our nation’s economy, contributing to increased tax revenues and funding available for public schools.