In this edition of Eye on the Prize: The Road to Broad, we explore promising district investments in operations and support systems—the structures and management practices that strengthen student learning at all levels of the district.In this issue:
New Investments in Human Resources
The 2007 Broad Prize finalist districts, like many other school systems across the country, struggle to staff schools with highly effective teachers—especially in high-poverty neighborhoods and in shortage subject areas such as math, science and special education.
Two of the 2007 Broad Prize finalists have made significant investments in human resource systems to build, support and retain a high-quality teaching force. Leaders in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) and the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) recognize that HR departments do much more than process fingerprints and payroll—HR is instead a critical component of a district-wide strategy to better serve all students.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
"The department had been mainly focused on quantity—just getting teachers in front of kids," says Carolyn Spaht, M-DCPS chief of staff. "The quality of teaching had suffered because the system was set up mainly to respond to vacancies."
Under Crew's leadership, the district in 2006 established a multi-year teacher recruitment plan based on supply and demand, proactively targeting the region's best sources of teachers and prioritizing their placement in hard-to-staff schools and subject areas. Human resources staff now track data from each of the district's recruitment strategies—including teacher fairs, contracts with external vendors and international outreach—and hone in on those that are most successful in recruiting high-quality teachers. To help ensure that the district has enough new recruits to fill its hardest-to-staff positions, teacher recruitment fairs for the district's lowest-performing schools are held first.
Miami-Dade's HR department has also set up a new teacher selection process—which Spaht says had previously been "at best, inconsistent, and at worst, non-existent"—to make hiring more targeted and efficient. The department replaced a myriad of rubrics with a uniform screening tool, which allows regional staffing officers to quickly assess candidates' applications. "I review all the paperwork to ensure that candidates have the proper documentation, such as certification, transcripts, and degrees," says Sam Pognon, one of M-DCPS' staffing directors. "Then I work with eligible candidates to help match them with a principal in my region." The new screening tool has greatly increased hiring efficiency by ensuring that candidates are eligible for district employment long before an interview, and collaboration between the district and individual principals helps ensure a better fit at every school.
New York City Department of Education
Over the past four years, the office has worked to shift from a transactional entity focused primarily on filling vacancies to a "quality broker" that works with schools to find the best person for a specific job, whether a teacher or a principal. "For a long time, the focus had been on hiring and placing teachers ourselves," says Berstein. "We wanted to focus instead on serving the school. So we've had to change our systems to help us do a better job of matching candidates with schools." New York started by re-staffing the central recruitment office with recruiters who had teaching experience rather than a civil service background.
The HR office also established a new placement process to allow principals more authority over who works in their school. Instead of reviewing applications only for basic eligibility, HR staff now screen each new teacher applicant according to a common rubric that was developed based on input from principals across the city.
"We make sure candidates have all the proper credentials so that principals aren't wasting their time interviewing people who they can't actually hire," says Peter Ianniello, director of recruitment and selection. "But we are also more selective about the teachers we are bringing in and recommending to our schools." Each candidate who passes the initial screening is placed in a pool that is made available to school leaders online. Based on candidates' strengths and interests, principals can schedule interviews only with those applicants who they believe would be good matches for their schools.
NYCDOE's human resources office is also analyzing data about new recruits to help improve the department's future recruitment and selection strategies. HR staff have begun surveying new teachers and principals about which elements of the hiring and placement process work for them and which need to be improved. HR is also collecting information about new teachers—from how they came to the DOE and were placed, to their college GPA and matching this information with the teachers' impact on student learning to gain insight about the characteristics of recruits who are most effective in the classroom. In the future, this information will allow the HR office to more strategically target recruitment efforts and refine screening and selection to help ensure that all schools are staffed by the highest-quality teachers.
Targeted Teacher Recruitment and Training
In addition to improvements in human resource systems, several 2007 Broad Prize finalist districts have invested in innovative approaches to recruit and retain highly effective teachers—particularly in low-income schools and shortage subject areas. Two districts in particular have taken very different approaches based on their specific needs and the labor market in which they operate.
Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) relies heavily upon local recruits and has partnered with local colleges to tailor their teacher training programs to the needs of the district. The New York City Department of Education, on the other hand, draws new recruits from across the nation, many of whom enter the classroom through non-traditional routes.
Long Beach Unified School District
District leaders here have focused on local resources and talent to fill these teaching positions, in part through a partnership called the Seamless Education Initiative. Together with Long Beach City College (LBCC) and California State University Long Beach (CSULB), the district has redesigned local teacher education programs to draw Long Beach natives into district schools and ensure that they are prepared for success in an urban environment.
Faculty teams from LBCC and CSULB conduct regular outreach to middle and high school students in LBUSD to prepare them for the demands of college and to encourage them to consider a career as a teacher. And district leaders work with college and university staff to help ensure that the high school graduates who enroll in teacher preparation programs closely match the district's greatest needs—particularly for minority candidates and math and science teachers.
"We have had a hard time finding enough math, science and special education teachers," says Ruth Ashley, assistant superintendent for human resource services. "But our HR staff has good connections with our local colleges, so we've been welcomed into their teacher education classrooms to speak to students about serving in LBUSD. We don't have to wait for a recruitment fair."
Experienced teachers and district leaders have also worked with university staff to ensure that the coursework in teacher education programs focuses on the district's standards for student performance so new teacher candidates are prepared for what LBUSD students are expected to know. The majority of senior staff members in LBUSD's office of curriculum, instruction and professional development also teach at least one class as adjunct faculty at CSULB's College of Education.
Long Beach's partnership with its neighboring colleges and universities has improved the district's teacher tenure and "home grown" commitment. Four out of five teachers in the district earned their teaching credentials from CSULB, and Long Beach teachers on average stay in the classroom for more than 10 years.
New York City Department of Education
NYCDOE has met these enormous demands in recent years by ramping up all of its outreach and recruitment efforts, especially in the area of alternative certification. Together with the state and several local colleges and universities, the department has looked for new sources of teaching candidates—namely professionals considering a career change, recent college graduates and even retirees who are experts in a specific subject but may lack formal education training.
Two primary sources of teacher candidates are Teach For America and the New York City Teaching Fellows (NYCTF) program, which was created in 2000 specifically to serve New York City schools. The NYCTF is the result of a partnership between NYCDOE and The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit that works with local education organizations to increase the number and effectiveness of qualified teachers.
Through the NYCTF program, the department recruits, selects and trains talented professionals from outside the field of education to teach in city schools. The Fellowship has focused specifically in recent years on recruiting non-traditional candidates to teach in the city's hardest-to-staff schools and shortage subject areas such as math, science and special and bilingual education.
Through this program alone—which processes more than 17,000 applications each year—the NYCDOE has filled 30 percent of its recent math teacher vacancies. And in the 2006-07 school year, one in 10 teachers in the New York City public school system was a Teaching Fellow. Though retention is still a challenge in New York City, nearly 90 percent of Teaching Fellows remain in NYCDOE classrooms after they complete their first year.
Integrated Professional Development
For many school districts across the country, it's not enough to get high-quality teachers in the door. District leaders must also establish strong professional development programs to ensure that all teachers receive up-to-date training and adequate support.
In both Bridgeport Public Schools (Conn.) and Northside Independent School District (Texas), professional development opportunities for teachers and principals are driven by data, designed to provide ongoing learning and support, and aligned with key district goals.
Bridgeport Public Schools
By analyzing data about individual students across all Bridgeport schools, district leaders are able to target training toward the areas of need for both students and educators. District data showing a dip in student attendance and an increase in disciplinary incidents, for example, drove Bridgeport's recent decision to adopt a new program—Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS—to train principals and teachers to proactively identify and support appropriate student behaviors and create more positive school environments. School-based coaches, district curriculum specialists and teacher representatives have received training on PBIS, including how to set very clear expectations for student behavior, actively teach those expected behaviors, acknowledge students for meeting expectations, and use data to identify and respond to patterns of behavior. Several Bridgeport schools have seen significant decreases in the number of suspensions and frequency of disciplinary problems since PBIS was introduced.
District staff in Bridgeport also encourage school leaders to select their own school-based PD activities based on their specific staff and school needs. "When principals feel a need within their building, they contact us," says Ginger Horvath Stehle, Bridgeport's director of special education planning and placement. "For example, a recent court ruling has required changes to special education services, and that has concerned several of our principals. They called on us, and we've sent district specialists to their buildings during their PD time to make sure they understand the new responsibilities." District staff also help direct school leaders to professional development programs that will best meet their school's specific needs.
Northside Independent School District
"The Academy gives our new teachers an opportunity to meet our superintendent and school board and to receive targeted training that helps them get hands-on with the curriculum," says Diana Ely, Northside's director of organizational and staff development. "When they finish the Academy training, they're in great shape. They know what the lessons are going to look like and what the plan is for the critical first few weeks of the school year."
All Northside teachers who are new to the profession also receive a mentor for the first year. Each campus has a mentoring advisor and a set of mentors who work on an ongoing basis with the school's new teachers. Their work is supported by several school-level content specialists, who work on a weekly basis to help all of the school's teachers modify their instructional strategies. They also work with individual or small groups of struggling students.
"In Northside, staff development is not just a one-time thing that you have for three hours," says Rosemary Perez, Northside's director of state and federal programs. "Our mentors and campus specialists work with the teachers to reinforce their lessons, make them more engaging for students, and really help them hit their academic targets."
Northside also provides ongoing professional development courses for beginning and experienced teachers. School leaders, district staff and external consultants offer seminars during six early release days throughout the year, as well as after school and on weekends.
At the end of each year, the district analyzes student achievement results on state and district assessments to determine areas of improvement. To help ensure that all of the district's professional development offerings target areas where students and educators need additional help, district leaders survey teachers and school leaders each year and analyze student learning results on state and district assessments to determine training needs.
For example, the district expanded a three-week summer training institute on how to teach writing in response to a growing achievement gap and disappointing overall scores in writing. Since then, the district has seen writing scores increase across all student groups—especially among economically disadvantaged and minority students. In 2003, 80 percent of low-income students in NISD met grade level standards in writing, in 2007, 92 percent of low-income students in NISD met standards, and writing scores across all students in Northside exceeded the state average.
In both Bridgeport and Northside, using formal and informal data to influence the selection and development of new professional development activities has helped ensure that teachers and school leaders are not hit with a spattering of new trainings. Instead, these districts provide all of their educators the opportunity to participate in a streamlined professional development program that is aligned with the district's overall improvement goals.
Aligned Organizational Structures
In the midst of a national debate about the best strategies to improve chronically low-performing schools, two Broad Prize districts follow very different—and promising—theories of action. In Miami-Dade, the district's organizational structure is built around strong centralized control and additional support for low-performing schools. In New York City, a focus on decentralization and school autonomy has led to the reorganization of the department's structure and the implementation of performance contracts between individual schools and the department. In both school systems, these changes to organizational structure serve to reinforce the district's key values, goals and strategies.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
Since 2003, the district has used a system of zero-based budgeting to align the district's spending with the strategic plan. The process has required all departments to re-evaluate their previous levels of spending and justify each year's allocation based on the plan's goals. The result is a significant redirection of money to the student level. "It hasn't been easy," says Christine Master, the district's assistant superintendent for professional development. "When you've been using one budgeting process for 15 years and then you have to align everything to the district's strategic plan, it can be painful. But we are concentrating on the kids again. Everything now is built around increasing student achievement."
In Miami, the goals identified in the strategic plan have also informed the district's accountability system and structure. Through the School Improvement Zone, a non-geographic region of 39 schools, the district provides focused support to help improve achievement in its lowest-performing schools. "When Dr. Crew came in, he did an analysis of the schools across all the regions to determine which were in need of critical care," says Geneva Woodard, assistant superintendent for Zone schools. "Based on the data and the history in these schools, we identified a group to receive intensive support."
In "the Zone," as it is known locally, schools have less autonomy to determine curriculum, intervention programs and assessment schedules. But they receive extra teacher training and instructional coaches, a specialized curriculum, a longer school day and year, and an extra layer of support from the central office. Through a special agreement with the local teachers' union, Zone teachers work extra hours, participate in additional professional development and earn 20 percent more pay.
Though schools in the Zone started out behind Miami-Dade's other schools on state tests, students in the Zone are improving their achievement at rates that often outpace the district's students overall. And in 2006, six Zone schools were recognized by the state as the most improved in Florida.
New York City Department of Education
"Our goal has been to move from a system that had been very centrally managed to a system that is built on a backbone of accountability," says Klein. Between 2003 and 2006, 10 regional centers supported schools across the city, helping to unify the system of more than 1,400 schools. In 2007, these regions gave way to a network of school support organizations and service centers, nimble organizations that provide schools with many of the same services and supports that had previously come from the central bureaucracy.
School support organizations across the city now compete to offer schools help with instruction, educational programming, scheduling of the day and year, and professional development. Business service centers offer schools assistance with operational issues such as payroll, vendor contracts, facilities issues and budgeting. "Principals can look around at different systems and purchase the one they want," explains Lawrence Pendergast, a high school principal. "The district literally gives us money and says, 'you pick out the support that you think will work best for your school.' That's real honest empowerment for a principal."
NYCDOE's leaders have taken empowerment one step further through new performance contracts with principals across the city. The contracts spell out specific performance goals—for academic progress, student behavior, and financial health—that schools must meet each year. Those that have consistently low student achievement over time may face leadership changes or closure. In return for this accountability, principals can exercise greater autonomy over instructional methods, assessments, professional development, the school day and the budget.
New York's new organizational structure—together with a dynamic support system and greater autonomy at the school level—combine to create an environment that allows effective leaders to do what is necessary to achieve the next level of dramatic improvement in student achievement.
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For more information about any of these promising practices in the districts highlighted in this edition of Eye on the Prize, please contact:
For more information about The Broad Prize, please visit www.broadprize.org.