Interest grows in schools where teachers run the show

Interest grows in schools where teachers run the show

(Minn.) Charter advocates in search of new models of success note in a new policy brief the growing interest nationally in schools designed and run exclusively by teachers – the so-called ‘Teacher-Powered Schools.’

Today there are more than 60 teacher-powered schools operating in 15 states, with greatest concentration in the Minneapolis area. But recently polling conducted by the non-profit charter advocacy group, Education Evolving, suggests many more communities might be interested in the alternative learning system.

An overwhelming number of Americans surveyed – 91 percent – said that teachers should have more authority to tailor instruction to individual students and over the curriculum decisions and choices of technology.

The poll, drawn from telephone interviews with 1,000 adults during January, also found strong support for giving teachers authority to select their colleagues – favored by 80 percent of respondents; and broader control over the school budget – favored by 72 percent.

Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said they believed the idea of the teacher-powered school was a good one.

One impetus for the policy brief, noted the authors from Education Evolving, was the ongoing political strife playing out in virtually every state over teacher evaluations. They argued that policy makes teachers accountable in a setting where they typically have very little control.

“For most of the past 150 years we offered teachers one deal: we don’t give you professional authority, but we won’t hold you accountable either,” the brief said. “In recent years, however, we have been asserting something different: we don’t give you professional authority, but we will hold you accountable. Tying teachers’ evaluations to test scores when teachers don’t control the curricula, budget, or selection of colleagues is a prime example of this deal.”

They suggest that schools designed and run by teachers represent a new model that can alleviate the political tension “because, when teachers share full responsibility and accountability for school success, they address the many hot-button teacher policy issues themselves.”

The roles teachers play in the existing schools vary from state to state and community to community. Some are independent charters, others operate under the management of a school district. In some schools, the teachers have complete authority over budgeting, employment decisions and curriculum. In others, they share responsibility with district officials or an oversight board.

The process used to establish teacher-run schools also varies as a result of the “political climate, teacher activism and openness of unions, school districts and charter schools to innovate,” the writers explained.

They conclude that if policy makers are intent on linking teacher employment to student test scores, classroom educators need to be made more of a partner.

“Top-down reforms draw attention to an important set of needs — for accountability on the part of those doing the work. But these kinds of reforms sometimes overlook another equally important set of needs — for autonomy and the good will of those doing the work,” the brief argues.

“Too much organizational control may deny teachers the very power and flexibility they need to do the job effectively, undermine their motivation, and squander a valuable human resource — the high degree of commitment of those who enter the teaching occupation,” they said.

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