More ‘reach’ for excellent teachers

One in four U.S. classrooms has an “excellent teacher,” asserts Public Impact. “Bold efforts to recruit more top teachers and remove the least effective teachers” won’t be enough to put an excellent teacher in every classroom. So let’s expand the reach of highly effective teachers by redesigning teaching roles and using technology. The education policy group plans to identify five sites to pilot expand-the-reach models.

OpportunityCulture describes possible models:

(The) teacher can work in person, teaching face to face in a school and/or leading other teachers. Or, when not enough excellent teachers are available in person, excellent teachers can work remotely, with on-site monitors’ help. Remote, excellent teachers can reach students via webcam, online whiteboard, email, and other methods that let the teacher communicate personally—live, but not in person—and at times convenient for all.

Willing, excellent teachers can have larger classes (within reason!), or they can specialize in the most crucial subjects and most difficult teaching roles, while other team members take on the rest. Or they can swap technology—online digital instruction—for some of their teaching time, enough time that the teacher can teach more students. Or they can lead other teachers, and co-teach with them, with authority to: select, assign roles, develop, and evaluate the team.

If we pursue reach extension, retaining high-performing teachers, recruiting talented new teachers and dismissing the least effective, “87 percent of classes could be taught by gap-closing, bar-raising teachers—in a mere half-decade,” Public Impact believes.

That seems very ambitious. Or perhaps I mean unrealistic.


About Joanne


  1. With appropriate support, I would have no issue teaching more classes a day, or larger classes. If each teacher at the HS level could teach 6 classes of 50 students, instead of 5 classes of 25, it would make a huge difference.

    However, to support me, I would hope the cost savings (less teachers) would be used to put paraeducators in the rooms as assistants to monitor the students. They would also take over the related paperwork (attendence, grading, gradebook, notes to parents, putting lesson plans in the appropriate format for whatever jargon is currently in favor). My time would be spent planning quality instruction to become the best teacher.

    Currently, the majority of my “planning” time is spent on issues that have no relationships to “planning”. Fixing this would allow me to do one thing very well; teach students.

  2. Lightly Seasoned says:

    I don’t think bigger classes is feasible for English. I really need to grade my essays to see where the kids are and plan instruction. I’d be very up for coaching and leading a team, though, in exchange for a release hour or two. I already teach the most difficult classes (on both ends).

  3. The whole theory is based on a myth that teacher excellence can scale–in fact, that teacher excellence is repeatable, that it always looks the same.

    In fact, many teachers are excellent because they are good classroom managers. Some are excellent because they are good at motivating kids through direct interaction. Still others are excellent because they explain things well to kids with low ability only.

    You’d have to find out why the teacher is excellent, and for who. But no, these idiots think there’s one sort of excellent and just do more of it and yay team.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      True, and teachers who are ‘excellent’ for one child may be a disaster for another child. I thought my favorite HS physics teacher was great– he taught me the material (I still remember it!) his lectures were entertaining, I loved how he always showed us the derrivations, and his tangents about the history of science were fascinating.

      My sister had the same teacher two years later and hated him. She thought he was boring, that his explanations were unhelpful, that his tests and quizzes were unfair, and that he wasn’t good at explaining the material. She preferred the other physics teacher.

      Our IQs are the same. We both excelled at math and physics. My favorite physics teacher hadn’t deteriorated in the meantime (I was still taking classes with him–he was the same teacher.) So why was he excellent for me and atrocious for my sister?

      After a certain minimum teacher and student quality is attained, ‘excellence’ becomes very subjective….

  4. Who determines which teacher is excellent? By what method? Student test scores? Popularity with parents? Fewest discipline referrals? The number of topics taught through group work and projects? The teacher who is most enthusiastic about trying to teach things differently? The teacher who has the most clout in the union?

    I don’t think the imposition of a system equivalent to the registered nurse/hospital orderly system on education will improve it. I’ve never heard the lecture/section man model cited as an example of the pinnacle of education. I do like lectures, learned a great deal from them back in the day, and I hope my children will be ready to absorb college lectures. On the other hand, the star/subordinate system does not seem to be a natural fit for k-8 education.

    I don’t think that being permitted to be in the much larger pool of students assigned to an “excellent” teacher will improve outcomes. It may make things look more equitable on paper– everyone gets “contact” with the ET, even if the system makes true education impossible. I’ve read that large, public universities are creating lectures with almost 1,000 students. Strangely enough, I don’t think that 1,000 students with a superstar lecturer is better than a class of 40 with a non-superstar.

  5. Paul, even if I did have an aid (all 6 of my classes are close to 40 students right now), to hand over tasks such as giving feedback on student work and communicating with parents would remove a huge piece of what makes me effective. I can’t plan anything without constant student input about their understanding.

    And, Lightly Seasoned, I teach science and read at least as much student writing as English teachers. That’s in addition to setting up labs. This is largely due to my district’s emphasis on improving student writing. All teachers were inserviced extensively on teaching writing.

    And Joanne, however do we reach this “Impact” group? A scan of their website indicates that they are motivated by profit. That, alone, tells the tail. Will public school educators have to watch while our kids suffer through the rise and fall of for-profits and charters before they finally close their doors and go away? Will we have to start the next new trend in education for the billionaire boys to embrace so they pull funding from ridiculous ventures? I know – let’s use zero research and propose that all children be fed, housed, and have small classes. How do we go about getting funding? Oh. Wait….

    • Lightly Seasoned says:

      More power to ya, Luann. I agree– it is impossible to plan well without grading student work. It may be possible in other disciplines — I don’t know — but to think my work can be “scaled up” in that way belies a fundamental misunderstanding of what good teaching is.

  6. One in four U.S. classrooms has an “excellent teacher,

    Its funnier when Dave Barry makes up statistics

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      So true. If you make the definition, you can get almost any number you want.

      Alas, this sort of thing is pretty commonplace. Define “bullying” as just about anything someone does that makes you feel bad, and it turns out that “more than half of America’s students have experienced bullying.” Define poverty as most of the bottom half of the income distribution and it turns out “almost half of Americans are poor.”

  7. Mike Curtis says:

    So, what’s my motivation here? If I’m excellent, I’ll be rewarded with more work; if I’m mediocre, I’ll go unnoticed; and if I’m unsatisfactory, my workload will be reduced while I undergo rehabilitation. In all cases, the pay is the same.

    As a math teacher, I’m aware that half of us are below average. It’s mostly pride that keeps me in a profession which does not know how to reward its most productive workers. Nor does it know how to motivate its underachievers and institutional parasites.

  8. How many of those excellent teachers have excellent students?