The focus should be on quality teaching (part 3) - The Explorer: Columns

The focus should be on quality teaching (part 3)

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Richard D. Brinkley

Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 4:00 am | Updated: 10:46 am, Wed Jan 23, 2013.

“Nothing influences student achievement more than the quality of the teachers, and nothing influences the quality of the teachers more than the quality of the principals.”  John Chubb

Outside the home, teachers have the most influence on student achievement. In fact, studies have shown that students taught by top quintile teachers learned double to four times the amount students learned from bottom quintile teachers. Why does public education keep bottom quintile teachers?

In 1994, two Teach for America veterans started a fifth grade inner city school program in Houston, Texas. These two teachers called their approach the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). 

Taking 48 low-income students, the majority having failed state assessments the prior year, Mike Feinberg and David Levin had 98 percent of the students pass both reading and math state assessments by year-end. The five pillars of the KIPP teaching programs emphasized the role of school leadership. 

While public school principals seldom have authority or accountability over their total budgets or staffs, the KIPP program insisted that their principals have this authority and accountability. As Benno C. Schmidt, Jr. wrote in the Foreword of The Best Teachers in the World, “Principals make a huge difference for school performance. I never saw a great school without a strong principal. They worked their magic, I believe, by building effective teaching staffs.”

Just as in the private sector where managers are accountable for hiring top employees, removing poor employees, and achieving results, the KIPP program strongly replicates this model. Traditional public schools usually do not. If they did, we would see more local principals like Stephen Trejo, Principal at C.E. Rose, PreK-8, who took a failing school and turned it into one of the best schools in the country. His secret: cultivating leadership in his teachers and students.

At the other end of the spectrum, a recent news article reported that under Michigan’s evaluation system, all the teachers in Hazel Park School District were given the top rating of “highly qualified,” while the high school was given an “F” for student achievement. How can so-called “highly qualified” teachers produce a total failure in student achievement? Where was the school leadership?

How did the KIPP Program and C.E. Rose achieve their level of quality and excellence? Simply, principals, superior leaders, started as great teachers. Teachers know the principals “have been there and done that” successfully. The best principals promote and approve teacher quality and effectiveness by retaining top quartile performers and removing bottom quartile performers. They also cultivate leadership and accountability in their teachers.

There is no evidence that traditional public education principal training in schools of education or principal licensure has any effect on principal performance. Traditional public education usually fails in attracting quality leaders as principals, gives little or no authority over teachers, and prevents principals from quality achievement by burying them in District, State and Federal policies that have nothing to do with quality teaching or quality leadership. 

Today’s traditional public schools are graduating students that are not qualified to enter community colleges. This is not student achievement.  We can and must do better. Except for a very few like C.E. Rose, traditional public schools are failing our children.

In Pima and Pinal Counties, there are 108 charter schools (not including school district sponsored charter schools). In Pima County, there are 12 K-12 charter schools, 30 grade 9-12 charter schools, and 48 charter schools covering grades K-8 in various formats, e.g., K-5, K-8, K-6, 3-12, etc. In Pinal County, with just 33% of the population of Pima County, eighteen charter schools are already operating. Six of these schools focus on grades 9-12 and 12 schools focus on variants of K-8. 

Southern Arizona parents no longer have to wait for Superman to begin moving their children into better schools.

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