I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on the report about the Benwood Initiative that we recently released. Some who appreciated the “nuance” of the findings, others who had great methodological questions, and a smattering of folks who offered terse commentary that can be summed up as “you’re saying it takes everything to change the culture of schools and raise student performance, which in turn says nothing and makes it impossible to make choices and so basically there’s nothing we can do.” Well, I don’t know about everything but yes, you do have to change the culture of schools and that does take a whole lot more than any single policy change. And I would hope that could help inform the choices that schools and districts make–so they don’t put all their eggs into one basket and expect immediate hatching. I’ve heard from a few district and school leaders too, and have engaged in some back-and-forth with them. This I find the most heartening– to hear their thoughtful comments and their ideas about how this relates to their own schools and districts.
The findings have also been misread and misreported. The Baltimore Sun ran a story about Baltimore County teachers who may have to reapply for their jobs as part of restructuring. In it, they reported, “Education Sector, has a new report studying inner-city schools in Chattanooga, Tenn., that made dramatic gains. While those schools replaced some staff members, the report found, the teachers who were most successful were veterans who went through extensive professional development.”
To clarify, our research found that about 2/3 of teachers who were teaching in Benwood schools were rehired during the reapplication process. These were not necessarily veteran teachers nor is there any evidence to suggest that veteran teachers who were rehired were more successful than newer non-veteran teachers. What the report shows is that a group of mostly the same teachers improved over time, debunking the notion that the slate was wiped clean of existing teachers and replaced with new and better ones.