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When Good Teachers Oversee Multiple Classrooms, Does Learning Improve?

When highly effective teachers are given a hybrid role to lead other teachers, the students on their team perform better in math and, to a lesser extent, reading, according to a new study.

The Opportunity Culture initiative, led by Public Impact, an education policy and management-consulting firm in Chapel Hill, N.C., seeks to put high-quality teachers in charge of more students. Teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness with student learning are named "multi-classroom leaders"—a role that means they lead a teaching team, provide on-the-job coaching to their teachers, and still do some teaching themselves.

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These multi-classroom leaders are accountable for the results of all students on the team, and they earn extra money for this work—their salary supplements average 20 percent of the average teacher pay in the state. (The exact amount is up to each district, and some schools go higher—up to 50 percent of average pay.) This is all done within the regular school budget, and schools redesign their schedules so there is additional time for teacher planning, coaching, and collaboration.

Districts are able to pay multi-classroom leaders more by reducing the number of "non-classroom instructional specialist positions that provide remedial and advanced instruction" or using paraprofessionals instead of teachers to supervise noninstructional time (like homeroom) and complete administrative paperwork. Some teachers could end up with a reduced workload and less pay. This approach has made some hesitant to embrace the model—the National Education Association expressed "serious concerns" back in 2012, and teacher contracts often limit the degree to which educators' work can be restructured. 

More than 160 schools in about 20 districts in nine states are participating in this work, which started in 2009. (For more on the Opportunity Culture model, see Education Week's story from 2012.) 

This new study, conducted by the American Institutes for Research and the Brookings Institution, examined data from about 15,000 students and 300 teachers. Most of those students (90 percent) were in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina, and the rest were in Cabarrus County, N.C., and Syracuse, N.Y. All of the districts have implemented Opportunity Culture models in at least three schools for at least two academic years. The districts provided student achievement data from the state's standardized tests in grades 3 through 8 and high school end-of-course exams.

The study found that, on average, teachers were at the 50th percentile in student learning gains before they joined a team led by a multi-classroom leader. After joining the teams, those teachers produced learning gains equivalent to those of teachers who were in the top quartile in math and the 66th to 72nd percentile in reading. 

Typically, districts choose to implement the Opportunity Culture model in their disadvantaged, low-performing schools. The below graph shows that schools that have implemented this model came in with weaker prior achievement, but have seen a strong improvement in test score gains (particularly in math).

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Since most schools implement this model gradually, researchers also looked at the differences in test scores between classrooms overseen by these teacher-leaders and traditional classrooms within a single school. The differences were smaller, especially in reading. 

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This could indicate a positive "spillover" effect from Opportunity Culture classrooms to the rest of the school, researchers said. 

"We know from interviews with Opportunity Culture educators that multi-classroom leadership changed the culture of their schools fast," said Emily Hassel, the co-president of Public Imact, in a statement. "Collaboration, coaching, and support for everyone became the norm."

Why does this model work? The researchers suggested that it might be because of the coaching the team teachers receive—in years when teachers were coached, more observations received a "distinguished" or "accomplished" rating in facilitating learning than in years when teachers were not coached. It might also be because the team's structure allows for continuous instruction when teachers are absent, since multi-classroom leaders are there to fill in the gaps.

In a statement, Julie Hill, a multi-classroom leader at a Charlotte elementary school, said: "The power of being an MCL is building relationships with teachers where they are receptive to coaching. The teachers take what they learn during coaching sessions and implement better teaching practice in their classrooms. As an MCL, I am building the teacher/leader capacity within the staff. Teachers are more knowledgeable and confident in their pedagogy." 

A separate recent study by Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, found that when teachers have a leadership role in decision making in their school, students perform significantly better on state tests. 

Top image via the Opportunity Culture website; charts via the AIR and Brookings study

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