Perspectives in Education: David Harris

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Editor's Note: "Perspectives in Education" is meant to be an open and continuous forum through which the people of Indianapolis can contemplate the present and future of the city's educational landscape.

A new submission will be posted each Thursday, except for weeks in which the community offered no submissions.

Anyone interested in contributing a "Perspective" is welcomed and encouraged to do so. Please direct submissions to To the extent that statistics or research findings are referenced, please include hyperlinks or at least cite the primary source of the material.

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

to 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

they deserve.

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.

That is what The

Mind Trust

envisioned when we released our "Creating

Opportunity Schools"

report proposing a dramatic overhaul

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.

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