Report: Ways to Boost Teaching Effectiveness; Suggestions from Group of Leaders Brought Together by United Way

By Stepzinski, Teresa | The Florida Times Union, July 30, 2012 | Go to article overview

Report: Ways to Boost Teaching Effectiveness; Suggestions from Group of Leaders Brought Together by United Way


Stepzinski, Teresa, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Teresa Stepzinski

A coalition of leaders brought together by the United Way of Northeast Florida is offering several recommendations rooted in research showing that effective teachers are essential to learning success.

Empowering Effective Teachers evolved from two-year study to develop mentoring policies to cultivate, recruit and retain highly effective teachers in Duval County Public Schools. The report is being released at 12:30 p.m. Monday during the Duval Public Schools Mentoring-4-Impact Symposium luncheon at the Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership. The event also celebrates the school district's Mentor Teachers of the Year for their leadership helping new teachers.

Connie Hodges, president of the United Way, said teacher effectiveness has been identified as the most important in-school factor affecting student academic performance.

The report focused on five main areas, but the 45-member coalition narrowed those down to delivering effective teachers, measuring to retain effective teachers and exiting ineffective teachers, Hodges said.

"The coalition's goal is to ensure that every student gets an effective teacher in every subject, every year," she said.

The report is a compilation of community voices bolstered by national and local research, and was funded by a $180,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and United Way Worldwide.

Independent of the coalition's findings, school district officials already are implementing several of the report's recommendations as the result of state-mandated student and teacher accountability standards. The remaining recommendations involve contract issues that must be first negotiated by the teachers union and school district, or legislative action.

Noting the school district already is expanding its mentor training program, the coalition recommends master mentor certification with corresponding rewards or benefits for those highly effective teachers.

Mentors should be allowed more time during the day to work with new teachers at their schools, a recommendation echoed by Duval County School Board member Becki Couch. A teacher who served as a mentor to novice teachers at Baldwin Middle-Senior High School, Couch was among four board members serving in the coalition.

"I'd envision this as mentors having an additional planning period to mentor new teachers," said Couch, adding it could be adapted so mentors also would be given time to work with more experienced teachers who need support.

Another recommendation calls for better pay, job perks or other "significant rewards" for the best mentors. The report also recommends that district officials seek out foundation funding to recruit and train mentors, hire teachers by May to help prevent the best ones being lured away and consider giving highly effective teachers more autonomy.

The school district already offers both signing bonuses and performance bonuses to teachers in turnaround schools. The incentives are funded through federal and state grants. The district and Duval Teachers United are expected to "form a focus group to survey highly effective teachers to determine whether the current incentive system is working or needs revising," the coalition said.

Controversy, however, will come over the recommendations involving teacher evaluations and the procedures for getting rid of ineffective teachers, said Nancy Broner, a former Duval School Board member who served on the coalition's management team.

The evaluation process could be improved by changing the portion of the procedures that local school district control, the coalition said.

State legislation mandates that 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation be based on student academic growth. The problem, however, is that the relevant student achievement data aren't available in time for the evaluation. As a result, principals must estimate student achievement as they do the teacher evaluation, which can be imprecise and therefore unfair to teachers, Broner said. …

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