When teachers run the schools

Pacing guides turn teachers into assembly-line bosses, writes Kim Farris-Berg, guest blogging on Eduwonk. But “our students aren’t widgets,” writes Farris-Berg. “They’re humans who vary in their readiness, aptitudes, interests, and rates of learning.”

In Trusting Teachers with School Success:  What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots, she looks teacher-run schools.

With authority and accountability, teacher partnerships design stunningly different approaches to teaching and learning.  Many forego grade levels, opting instead to place students in multi-aged groups based on skill level.  Teachers move through curriculum at the pace appropriate for each group.  Other teacher partnerships, recognizing the difficulties of individual progress in group settings, empower students to self-direct their learning using a mix of projects and seminars.  To these teachers, equity isn’t about “sameness.”  It’s about doing whatever it takes to help every student move to his or her personal next level of achievement.

“Teachers could be the social entrepreneurs we need for K-12,” Farris-Berg concludes.

Teachers take over schools

Across the country, teachers are taking over schools, reports the New York Times.  In Newark, a group of  Teach for America veterans are running a public K-8 school, Brick Avon Academy, as teacher-leaders. The “principal teacher,” Charity Haygood, teaches every day, as do two vice principals.

While they are in charge of disciplining and evaluating staff members, they plan to defer all decisions about curriculum, policies, hiring and the budget to a governance committee made up largely of teachers elected by colleagues.

. . . Teachers have more say over what they teach, and starting next year they will have more time to work with children when they introduce a longer day.

Founders were given a low-scoring school in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood.  They plan to turn Brick Avon into an International Baccalaureate school and to require Mandarin as well as Spanish.

Los Angeles has turned over 29 city schools to teacher-led groups, who beat out established charter operators. Detroit is opening a teacher-run elementary school. Boston Teachers Union opened a teacher-run school last year “with teachers ordering supplies, giving feedback to one another and deciding whose hours to reduce to save money.”

Until recently, most teacher-led schools have been charters.  It’s harder to change the administrative structure in a district-run school.

Tim McDonald, an associate with Education Evolving, a policy group in St. Paul that supports teacher-led schools, said studies showed that when teachers were given control — much like doctors or lawyers running their own practices — schools had higher morale, less turnover, more efficient decision-making and greater motivation to improve.

Still, Mr. McDonald was skeptical that a truly collaborative model could succeed widely in school districts, unless it was somehow freed from the traditional bureaucracy.

“The question is whether teachers have the patience to do the ‘adminis-trivia,’ ” said James Lytle, a former principal and superintendent and now an education professor at University of Pennsylvania.

The union-run UFT Charter School in East New York, Brooklyn, has run into problems. Two principals resigned after clashing with teachers, and recent test scores have been disappointing; only 22 percent of last year’s eighth graders passed state tests in English and 13 percent in math, compared with citywide rates of 37.5 percent in English and 46.3 percent in math.

Teachers are running schools in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Denver, reports Public School Review.  Some are charters and some are district-run but nearly all enroll primarily low-income, minority students.  Results are mixed for the Minnesota and Wisconsin schools, writes Beth Hawkins in Education Next.