October 23, 2012 14:13 Age: 5 yrs

Teachers Are More Important Than Curricula (Part I of II)

Category: News, Doug McCurry, Home

Alan Bersin, the former superintendent of San Diego Public Schools and one of the nation's most forward-thinking educational leaders, focused his school reform efforts around finding and cultivating great teachers. In speeches, he often said, “A curriculum does not teach students, teachers do.” Bersin’s insight is very important. Throughout the past 50 years, policymakers and superintendents have tried (in vain) to fix American education by changing curricula and programs. The result has been wave after wave of educational fads and a lack of attention to who is in front of the classroom.

Unfortunately, all of this often misguided energy around programs has obfuscated a dirty little secret in American education: the teachers in front of the students aren't always good enough. In No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, authors Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom cite extensive research showing that the number one predictor of student achievement is teacher quality. Moreover, the Thernstroms report that the achievement teachers attained in high school and college is a good predictor of their students' achievement. The message is clear: get great teachers in front of students and they will have great results.

What does this mean for Achievement First? Achievement First aggressively recruits some of the finest teachers in America. We have developed a rigorous recruiting process that includes a resume screen, phone interview, written application (including questions and short essays about teaching philosophy and reactions to case study situations), school visit, on-site interviews and reference checks. Our recruiting process also requires applicants to guest-teach a class and receive feedback on the sample lesson. Moreover, we have developed a comprehensive plan for casting a wide net to increase the candidate pool, and we have designed a professional development program to rapidly accelerate the skills of rookie and early-career educators. The teacher recruiting function is one of the most important jobs of Achievement First’s Network Support office, and we staff this function robustly.

Achievement First’s innovative Teacher Career Pathway program takes teachers through five career stages (intern, new teacher, teacher, distinguished teacher and master teacher) with differentiated compensation, recognition and professional development at each stage. This program sets the bar high for teachers to move from one stage to the next, using value-added performance data, classroom observations, surveys from peers and parents, and principal feedback to paint a holistic picture of teacher performance.