Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Revolution from the Faculty Lounge: The Emergence of Teacher-Led Schools and Cooperatives: In a Movement That Is Spreading throughout the Country, Teachers Are Forming Cooperatives and Contracting to Run Schools. with This Professional Empowerment, Mr. Williams Shows, Comes the Flexibility to Make Instructional Decisions That Are Responsive to Students' Changing Needs

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Revolution from the Faculty Lounge: The Emergence of Teacher-Led Schools and Cooperatives: In a Movement That Is Spreading throughout the Country, Teachers Are Forming Cooperatives and Contracting to Run Schools. with This Professional Empowerment, Mr. Williams Shows, Comes the Flexibility to Make Instructional Decisions That Are Responsive to Students' Changing Needs

Article excerpt

IN RECENT years there has been a growing acceptance of the idea that "the school" must be the fundamental unit of reform in education. Philanthropists and business leaders have seized upon the practical idea of improving school systems by improving their individual parts. Vast sums have been invested in "school leadership," based on the widely held, corporate-inspired assumption that school principals are best positioned to carry out these school-centered reforms. In short, we have placed the onus for the success or failure of reform squarely on the shoulders of principals, and entire organizations have emerged to find and retain the type of status-quo-busting men and women who will get the job done.

But what if this top-down approach to reforming individual schools is not the most efficient way to implement substantive reform of public education? What if we could get power and decision making even closer to the students we serve? What if teams of professional educators were capable of evaluating one another's work and solving school-level problems in a collaborative manner and with an eye toward the impact of all decisions on their instruction?

Around the country, the debate about what would happen if teachers were allowed to run their own schools is moving from theory to practice. A growing number of concerned educators--primarily in such progressive strongholds as Wisconsin and Minnesota--are experimenting with such ideas as they work under a "professional teacher partnership" model that empowers groups of teachers to act as a professional practice (like doctors or lawyers) in their schools. Public school teachers in Denver have already moved forward with contractual language that allows for teacher-led "Beacon" schools. Union leaders in California and Massachusetts are also considering the concept.

Once considered an idea on the fringes of education reform, teacher-led schooling arrangements are moving into the mainstream. In late 2006, the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, a group spearheaded by the National Center on Education and the Economy, included in its recommendations for reform the argument that more public schools should be run by teacher-led independent contractors, similar to the way public charter schools are organized in some states. (1)

These teacher partnerships essentially bypass the middleman (i.e., the principal) and act as a collaborative body of classroom-level reformers, making daily decisions close to the ground in ways that benefit their students. Supporters argue that such teacher-run schools may be the best hope for prompting the types of fundamental change required to keep pace with a rapidly changing world and the escalating expectations for public education.

One of the better-known ventures into this area, Ed-Visions (discussed in more detail below), states in its articles of incorporation that the purpose of its teacher-led arrangements is to "provide employment and income to its members in a manner that would permit them, individually and in concert with one another, in a cooperative structure, to employ their skills, talents, and resources for the development and implementation of quality instructional programs."

"Our goal is always to have everyone who is part of the organization working with the kids in some capacity, so the distance between the decision maker and those affected by the decisions is as short as possible," says Nora Whalen, a founding teacher at the Avalon School, in St. Paul, Minnesota, one of a dozen teacher-led schools working under the umbrella of the EdVisions teacher cooperative.

Ted Kolderie, a senior associate of the Minnesota-based initiative Education/Evolving, argues that understanding the significance of these ground-breaking professional teacher partnerships requires setting aside traditional notions that teachers serve only as employees of school districts. Envisioning teachers as entrepreneurial owners of the academic instruction they provide unlocks tremendous potential for reform that is both teacher-friendly and aimed squarely at enhancing achievement opportunities for students. …

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