Across the country, teachers are taking charge of school turnarounds, reports Associated Press. Some charter schools have been run by teachers for years now; what’s new is that districts are letting teacher committees take over schools, usually schools in trouble.
Four years ago, Francis Parkman Middle School was spiraling downward with plummeting enrollment, abysmal test scores and notoriety for unruliness. Then teachers stepped out of the classroom and took charge of the school.
Today, the rechristened Woodland Hills Academy, named for the school’s suburban location north of Los Angeles, is run by a teacher-controlled committee where the principal carries the same weight as a teacher and the district has minimal say in operations.
Test scores are up 18 percent and enrollment has spiked more than 30 percent. The model works, teachers say, because everyone from the principal to the janitor is vested in the outcome.
Student achievement has been mixed in teacher-run schools, concludes a study by Charles Kerchner, a Claremont education professor. Only seven of 13 teacher-led schools in Minnesota achieved progress goals, the study found. In Milwaukee, teacher-led schools scored several points below the district average in reading and 12 points below in math.
Leadership by consensus often leads to slower decision-making, especially with people inexperienced in the substantial administrative work operating a school entails.
Still, the American Federation of Teachers and unions in Boston, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Los Angeles are backing teacher-led schools, reports AP.
In Los Angeles, union-backed teacher groups beat charters to win control of 30 out of 37 schools in the district’s first “public school choice” round last year. Most follow or build on the Woodland Hills blueprint.
Parkman Middle School was losing students to two nearby charter schools. Four teachers applied to turn Parkman into a teacher-led charter. To keep the school from going charter, district officials “allowed a 16-member leadership council, comprising eight elected teachers, the principal, and representatives of non-teaching staff and parents, to autonomously run the school,” which became Woodland Hills Academy.
The council tackled the building and grounds with fresh landscaping, fencing, and paint. It designed a schedule with 95-minute periods, rotating them so teachers see students at different times of the day. The curriculum now includes art, music, and electives such as cooking, photography and journalism, plus field trips.
Teachers decide their own professional development track and set the school’s goals for test scores and English as a second language placement. Parents and students are given satisfaction surveys.
Administrators and teachers who didn’t like the new set-up eventually left for other jobs. The council hired replacements who believed in the school’s mission.