Pittsburgh Public Schools is focused on reforming its teacher recruitment, evaluation and training systems, along with better coordinating its student services. In both goals, the district is being helped by elements of the business community, including a billionaire philanthropist and some MBA students.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year awarded the district a $40 million grant to support the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative. Developed collaboratively by PPS and its teachers union, the plan aims to revolutionize the way the district hires, evaluates and trains its teaching force.
A cornerstone of the plan is the proposed Teacher Academy, which will provide a 13-month induction and residency program to novice teachers in core content areas like math, English-language arts, science and special education.
The Academy will arrange the novice teachers into groups, each of which will be matched up with an experienced teacher. The groups of novice teachers will work in the same classroom alongside an experienced teacher for the first eight months of the program. At the end, teachers who don't meet performance standards will not be hired. Those teachers who pass muster will move on and spend about five months in a classroom.
The Teacher Academy, which the district hopes to be up and running in the 2011-2012 school year, also will benefit experienced teachers by providing them with professional development opportunities, says Jerri Lippert, the district's chief academic officer. The Academy "touches all teachers," she says. "It's the way we are going to bring new teachers to the district as well as provide customized professional development for all of our experienced teachers."
As part of its work to make teacher evaluation more research-based, the district and its teachers' union will be working with Mathematica Policy Research, a research company, to develop a measurement of student learning to use in the evaluation process, a statistic that the district calls a "Value-Added Measure." This statistical measure will go beyond looking at average student performance data to take into account various factors that can influence classroom achievement.
Some of the Pittsburgh plan's details will have to be negotiated through collective bargaining.
Separately from the grant, Pittsburgh was the focus this year of the annual Education Leadership Case Competition at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business, which asks teams of graduate students to tackle an urban district problem. For the Pittsburgh case— developed with PPS officials—students were asked to find a better way to coordinate student services to keep kids on track to be college-ready.
A panel of judges, including Pittsburgh Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, picked the winner, a Stanford University team that proposed deploying customer relations management software to track student outcomes and interactions with support providers like counselors.
The annual contest provides districts with potential solutions derived from the business world, where executives are faced with challenges like managing complex organizations and allocating scarce resources, said Jason Hirschhorn, copresident of the club responsible for coordinating the case competition. "These are challenges that urban school districts are facing," he said.
Kevin Butler is a contributing writer for District Administration.