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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teacher coaches boost math learning

“Extending the reach of excellent teachers,” the goal of Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture initiative, improves math achievement, according to an evaluation by Michael Hansen of Brookings and Ben Backes of American Institutes for Research.

Opportunity Culture schools pay excellent teachers more to teach more students or to coach teams of teachers in the same subject or grade area.

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Students made large gains in math when schools used the coaching-focused multi-classroom leader (MCL) model, the evaluation found. It was the equivalent of  “replacing an average teacher with one in the top quartile of teacher value-added performance.”

The study found reading gains too, but it wasn’t clear that the multi-classroom leader model was responsible. Many non-MCL classes improved too, possibly due to “spillover” effects from the Opportunity Culture experiment.

When effective teachers taught larger classes, “using blended learning or other learning rotations,” reading and math scores were the same or worse.

When Erin Burns began teaching science at West Charlotte High, her mentor teacher’s advice for classroom management was “yell louder.” As the MCL for biology, Burns has “reached more than 1,200 biology students in three years, four times the number I would have taught as a regular classroom teacher,” she writes on The 74.  “I coach my team, teach with them, pull students to one-on-one, and lead data meetings.”

Today, my team prioritizes creating engaging lessons that also meet needs identified by our data. We have two hourlong team meetings weekly, discussing the upcoming learning standards. I provide very specific advice for addressing misconceptions I’ve observed in recent classes, such as “Plant and animal cells both have vacuoles, but vacuoles are larger in plant cells. Many students think that animal cells don’t have a vacuole, so be sure to explicitly state that and point it out in the cell diagrams.” I then have briefer meetings with each teacher to discuss specific action steps. “Based on the last quiz, your class still doesn’t seem to fully understand DNA replication. What intervention can we put in place?” or “We need to increase the pacing and urgency in your classroom. At the end of class, cold-call on students using these vocabulary cards.”

Teachers are collaborating, Burns writes. Students are learning.

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