Charter High Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap
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Schools Value Professional Learning

All of these schools profit from teachers and other staff who, by virtue of participating in the creation of the school or signing on to work because of its mission, are committed to and take responsibility for fostering the school's goals. At TSA, many of the arts teachers are themselves professional artists or musicians, inspiring students with an appreciation for the arts. But even TSA teachers in the core academic subjects are likely to be arts enthusiasts. Moreover, knowing that students have been attracted to the school by the arts theme, they capitalize on that interest in their own teaching when, for example, a math teacher asks students to graph a guitar's "D" chord.

High expectations for students at these schools are mirrored in high expectations for teachers—and not just in the classroom. At YES, for example, teachers are issued cell phones and considered to be on call for students until 9 p.m. during the week. In those rare instances when teachers are not in sync with the school mission or not meeting expectations, they stand out as exceptions. And just as these schools have the option of dismissing students who fail to carry out their part of the bargain (e.g., working hard), their charter school status makes it easier for them to hold teachers accountable, dismissing or failing to renew the contract of those who are not serving students well. And whereas at many public schools open teaching slots are filled based on applicants' relative seniority within the school district, these schools can hire whomever they deem best suited to meet their students' needs. With all adults working together in the same direction to reach a school's goals and objectives, positive change is more easily achieved.

Principals as instructional leaders. Seven of these schools operate with a principal,* most of whom serve as instructional leader, working closely with their teachers to help improve teaching and learning. Their effectiveness in this role is enhanced by the fact that five of these leaders were the founding principals at their school and the other two have been at their schools for relatively lengthy periods. As a result, they have a deep understanding of their staff, what teachers' professional needs are, and what kinds of experiences might best serve them. Administrators at North Star spend time working with teachers individually on instructional practices, helping to analyze interim assessments, conducting classroom observations, and providing feedback, as well as providing feedback on lesson plans, and collaboratively strategizing reteaching and intervention approaches.

Teachers learning together. Just as these schools make every effort to support students to be successful, they tend to do the same for teachers. Because charter schools operate independent of a district, they make all their own decisions about professional development needs and how and when to address them. Thus, even though some may not have as much professional development funding as other public schools, they are better able to ensure that professional learning experiences are both timely and relevant and aligned to the school's mission. A chief advantage of being a charter is the freedom to develop—and revise—the school's own schedule; these schools have used that flexibility to build in regularly scheduled, structured teacher development time during the week.

At some of these profiled schools, the principal takes the lead in planning professional development, using the information he or she collects while working individually with teachers, as well as from other sources (e.g., student testing), to identify teacher needs and plan how to address them. At TSA, which has a core of highly experienced teachers, teachers themselves make most of the professional development decisions. In other schools, a teacher is in charge of professional development.

The most common strategy for teacher development at these schools entails using some form of a professional learning community, often but not always facilitated by the principal. A number of the schools have made a point of building in regular and frequent opportunities for teachers to plan, reflect, collaborate, and learn together, as well as from each other. For example, every Friday MATCH Corps tutors take over the classrooms so that MATCH teachers can plan and work together. MATCH teachers also participate in "rounds" twice weekly (one at lunchtime, one after school), to review videotapes of each other's classes and to provide feedback and coaching to each other. Teachers at a number of the schools engage in informal study groups to read and discuss relevant articles and books. At North Star and YES, teachers work in teams, discussing student testing data and how to reteach concepts the data have identified as needing more attention if students are to attain mastery. Some schools have implemented peer observation schedules, providing teachers with time and incentives to learn from one another in that fashion.

At Preuss, two hours every Friday are set aside for staff development. During this time, the principal and the designated staff developer (who is also a teacher at the school, with dedicated time for professional development work) facilitate reflective conversations, often focused on student work, with the aim of improving teaching and learning. Last year, the teachers immersed themselves in the practice of "lesson study"* to improve instruction. This year, they are using lesson study to examine their assessments and understand how to better measure student understanding (see fig. 9).

Fig. 9: A Lesson Study Plan for Teachers at The Preuss School

The Preuss School UCSD
Lesson Study on Assessment

School Educational Goals
Preuss School ESLF's
Mission Statement
CA Standards
Course/Dept Enduring Understandings/ Essential Questions
<--> Research Focus:
How do we integrate more use of assessment for learning, rather than relying primarily on assessment of learning? What is our stance about issues re HW & "what counts"?
<-->Actual Situation of Students
Students study for tests but don't always retain what has been studied once the test is over. Students often don't have any idea of their level of progress/ performance (until grades come out). There is an emphasis on summative and diagnostic assessments over formative assessments

Lesson Study on Assessment

Step 1: Defining the Problem: Sharing teaching concerns re: assessment; Examining student work protocols (schoolwide; depts.); reviewing the data; learning about assessment through research articles (Whole school & assessment study teams)
Step 2: Planning the Lesson: Assessment study teams; determination of methods & measures.
Step 3: Teaching the Lesson: Goal is to also have outside experts view these.
Step 4: Evaluating the Lesson & Reflecting on Its Effect: Schoolwide presentation and discussion, review.
Step 5: Revising the Lesson: Assessment study teams; what new information needs to be considered (research)
Step 6: Teaching the Revised Lesson: Viewed by Team and outside experts
Step 7: Evaluating and Reflecting, Again: Extending our understanding of what assessment for learning looks like; how students are held accountable; other issues
Step 8: Sharing the Results What Assessment for Learning Looks Like at The Preuss School UCSD. Dept recommentations; Individual teacher reflection.

If there is a greater emphasis on assessment for learning, then students will have greater opportunities to maximize achievement and the results will show improved academic performance.
If.... (in development stage)

Teacher induction and retention. Recognizing that their teachers are the heart of the school program and that there are heavy demands on them, most of the schools have sought to create incentives to retain teachers, whether outstanding veterans or promising novices. One strategy has been to provide more time for teacher collaboration planning and mutual support. As noted earlier, several of the schools have structured systems for providing teachers with time to work together throughout the week for building collegiality and, as one school leader puts it, quoting Stephen Covey, for "sharpening the saw."

Another strategy has been to encourage teachers to seek professional growth and renewal opportunities outside the school. At SEED, for example, teachers are offered $1,200 tuition reimbursement to take courses to continue their own learning. At YES, teachers are required to do 30 hours a year of professional development in order to renew their contract; funds are available to attend conferences, meetings, and workshops, and to visit other schools and bring back tools to share with their colleagues.

Schools also are tuned into induction needs. Some of their work with veteran teachers is designed to spin off knowledge and materials that can be used to support novice teachers. For example, teachers at Preuss are expected to maintain professional portfolios to facilitate conversations about improving professional practice, but they also are seen as ways to generate illustrative materials to share with new faculty. Similarly, North Star teachers keep binders with lesson plans, assessments, their curriculum progression, and other materials to support their practice, and they are expected to share the binders with new staff. Preuss runs a new teacher "boot camp" in the summer, and Gateway is in the process of developing a beginning teacher support and assessment program to support teachers who are new to the school.

* The eighth school, MNCS, is teacher-owned and uses a distributive leadership model in which all teachers assume responsibility for some aspect of leadership. For more information about this, see the MNCS profile, starting on page 43.

* Lesson study is a process developed in Japan for teachers to improve their craft by jointly planning, observing, and analyzing lesson plans, refining the way concepts are taught, and creating dialogue about how to improve instruction.

Covey is author of the widely read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989.

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Last Modified: 11/18/2009