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Let's make IPS the best place in the nation to teach
By David Harris
Having a great teacher is the most critical factor in helping
students to excel.
2005 study, which controlled for the previous test
scores and demographic factors of roughly 150,000 Los Angeles students, ranked
teacher performance based on the outcomes achieved with those students over a
two-year period. The authors concluded in a Brookings Institute white paper that teachers who ranked among the top 25
percent in terms of student outcomes, if given four consecutive years of
influence, could close the test-score gap between white and African-American
students. And a 2011 study by
researchers from Harvard and Columbia universities showed students taught by
highly effective teachers are more likely to attend college, earn higher
salaries, and save for retirement.
Outstanding teachers change lives. That's why we must do
everything we can to encourage the many great teachers in Indianapolis Public Schools
Public Schoolsto remain in the district – and make IPS a magnet to attract
additional education talent from across the nation.
To do that, we have to create the right conditions within every
school in IPS. That means giving schools ample autonomy from district control
in exchange for strong accountability for achieving top performance. That way,
school leaders would be able to make critical decisions about how to run their
schools, and teachers would receive the professional freedom, pay and respect
Within IPS, a handful of schools today are granted these conditions
under special circumstances.
For example, the district gave Harshman
Middle School autonomy to execute a turnaround in 2009. Because of this
agreement, Harshman's excellent school leader was
able to assemble a high-quality teaching and leadership team, and Harshman teachers were given the freedom to deliver
instruction in the way they determined would best help students to excel.
As a result, student performance skyrocketed. ISTEP scores
have improved, on average, by 118 percent in English Language Arts and 104
percent in math from 2009 to 2012.
If every IPS school gave school leaders the freedom to make
those kinds of management decisions, the best school leaders in IPS would
remain in the district, and excellent new leaders would flock there. With
top-notch school leadership in place across the board, talented teachers also
would be encouraged to remain in or move to the district.
of IPS in December 2011. The key recommendation of our 160-page report is shifting
control over key spending and decision-making from the district's central
office to individual schools.
Under the conditions we propose, teachers would have more
professional flexibility to deliver their best instruction.Today in IPS, teachers receive pacing guides designed by the
central office that lay out which state standards to prioritize and how long to
focus on each set of standards. That schedule also is rigidly enforced by a
series of tests mandated by the district. Both of these things put guardrails
on the level of creativity and innovation that teachers can unleash in
delivering high-quality instruction.
Instead of this top-down structure, qualified school leaders
who best know their students' needs should be empowered to set their own
benchmarks for success. In turn, those leaders should be able to give teachers
freedom to determine what to teach and when – in ways that teachers
determine would best help their students to learn.
With most decisions and resources shifted to the school
level, great teachers also likely would be paid more. School leaders would be
able to assemble their own teams of teachers. To get the best teaching talent
at their schools, they would likely have to offer more competitive salaries,
and they could do that because they would control significantly more resources.
Those enticing conditions would make IPS a draw for excellent
teachers, both those already in the system and talented newcomers. That would
be a tremendous asset to our city — and a game-changer for the children
who represent its future.
David Harris is the founder and chief executive officer of The Mind Trust. Harris has also served as former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson's Charter Schools Director. He received a BA from Northwestern University and a law degree from Indiana University. Harris sits on the State of Indiana's Charter Schools Review Panel and serves on the advisory boards of Western Governors University Indiana, Teach Plus and Teach For America Indianapolis.