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Teacher Coaching and High Expectations Key to Charter Performance

Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki

Recent research has indicated that teacher coaching and high expectations for student behavior are characteristics of the most effective charter schools. In "Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching," researchers from the University of Washington's Center for Reinventing Public Education and New Jersey-based research firm Mathematica probe into exactly what those polices look like.

This report is one of several to come from a four-year study of charter management organizations, or CMOs, one of which I wrote about for our Accelerating Innovation report. Researchers Robin Lake, Melissa Bowen, and Allison Demeritt from the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Moira McCullough, Joshua Haimson, and Brian Gill of Mathematica Policy Research looked at student achievement in middle schools from 22 CMOs, using a formula that gauges student performance relative to students with similar backgrounds who attend traditional schools. They then zeroed in on Aspire Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation, KIPP DC, Uncommon Schools, and YES Prep Public Schools, which have better-than-average results and, crucially, emphasize either high behavioral expectations for students or teacher coaching and monitoring, or both.

Behavioral expectations and teacher coaching and monitoring were the two school policies that were strongly associated with positive impact on student achievement. The researchers clarify that the practices they write about indicate correlation, not causality, but say that evidence suggests they may be "promising."

The report noted that the featured charter networs:

  • "Design behavior policies and practices to foster a safe and focused learning environment, thereby promoting student achievement."

  • "Encourage consistency across classrooms to create clear expectations
    for students."

  • "Expect adults to model and enforce norms for student behavior."

  • "Ask parents to reinforce and support school actions."

  • "Prescribe some student behavior policies, but give schools flexibility in implementation."

  • "Emphasize teacher training to support high standards for classroom behavior."

As far as teaching strategies go, the report said the schools:

  • "Select coaches who have specific skills and can form solid relationships with teachers."

  • "Ensure other personnel practices and school culture support culture"

  • "Strategically target teacher needs."

  • "Tightly align coaching with school and central office goals."

  • "Observe teachers frequently and provide rapid feedback."

The report delves into some of the work schools do to create and maintain these policies. In one section, a principal at a school that's part of the Inner City Education Foundation CMO describes spending "about 40 percent of instructional time re-establishing norms and routines in the weeks following holiday break because most of the consistency was lost during the time at home." In another, the researchers describe the qualities of an effective teacher "coach" and note that it's important that coaches are themselves receiving professional development and perceive of themselves as learners, too.

I was interested in the fact that the extensive teacher coaching provided is partly due to the fact that the teaching staff at these schools is largely young and inexperienced—and that that's an intentional strategy of the schools. According to the report, CMO leaders feel new teachers are "more open to learning the CMOs approach to teaching and have fewer preconceptions about their roles...and are often passionate about the CMO's mission and willing to work extremely hard to achieve it." The report also points to high teacher turnover at the schools studied, which means schools need to train teachers quickly and effectively.

In the report's executive summary, the researchers write that "Although each of these CMOs approaches the creation of student culture in somewhat different ways, they all believe that success would be impossible without these policies." The report also notes that both teachers and students at the CMOs studied have actively chosen to be at schools. This leaves me wondering whether and how the practices written about here might be applicable to traditional public schools. The researchers note several challenges: It would require "strong commitment from school and district leaders" to implement policies resembling these CMOs, but it also might be difficult for these CMOs to scale up while maintaining their quality. But, they continue, some public districts are using some of these strategies already—Harvard economist Roland Fryer studied an instance of this in Houston, as my colleague Christina Samuels recently reported.

The report was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, both of which also provide funding to Education Week for business and K-12 innovation and parent-empowerment issues, respectively.

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