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Massachusetts Teacher 'Turnarounds' Show Promise

One of the rarer pleasures we reporters have is following up on an initiative we wrote about during its early phases. Today, I'm taking a look back at the Teacher Turnaround Teams program, or T3, in Boston, a project I wrote about back in 2011.

According to an analysis by Teach Plus, the Boston nonprofit which runs the T3 program, the six schools participating in the endeavor have seen greater gains in student achievement than other "turnaround" schools in Boston or across the state of Massachusetts. Three schools are in their second year of the program; the other three are in the first year.

Each of the T3 schools was identified for intervention under the U.S. Department of Education's School Improvement Grants program. That controversial program requires such steps as replacing the school's leadership and up to half the staff. But the other elements of the T3 initiative are uniquely Teach Plus, including its feature of placing a "critical mass" of excellent teachers in each of the schools and giving them extra supports and training. Importantly, the idea was crafted by a group of practicing teachers convened by Teach Plus.

There's plenty of data to parse in the report, which was issued last month (so I'm admittedly a little late to the picnic). Among the findings: Cohort 1 schools, with two years of T3 under their belts, closed the middle school achievement gap with the district average in both math and English/language arts, meaning they have similar percentages of students achieving "advanced" or "proficient" on the state tests in those subjects. Overall, the analysis says, the schools participating in T3 have had the proportion of students scoring at those levels increase by 16 percentage points in math and 12 percentage points in ELA.

These data are purely observational, so we can't say for certain that it was the T3 program that accounted for what seems to be much better results. And with only one to two years of data, it's still pretty early to call this a definitive trend. But it's suggestive, and certainly something to watch.

The T3 model is also being replicated in Fall River, Mass., and in Memphis, Tenn. We'll eagerly await the results as this project goes forward.

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