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NC officials head west to see a new model for teaching

Arizona State University's College of Education offers visitors a chance to check out its Next Education Workforce program.
ASU Next Education Workforce website
Arizona State University's College of Education offers visitors a chance to check out its Next Education Workforce program.

This piece originally appeared in WFAE reporter Ann Doss Helms' weekly education newsletter. To get the latest school news in your inbox first, sign up for our email newsletters here.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt has long pushed for changes in North Carolina’s teacher pay and licensure, saying the current system provides too little support for rookies and too few opportunities for veterans. Ultimately, she says, it’s the students who suffer when new teachers struggle and good teachers leave the profession.

But the Pathways to Excellence program she’s been backing has stalled, mired in teacher skepticism and legislative inaction. So Truitt recently told the state Board of Education that schools should check out the Next Education Workforce program created by Arizona State University’s College of Education.

Truitt and a couple of other top officials from the Department of Public Instruction recently went to Mesa, Arizona, to see the model in action. The easiest way to describe it is team teaching – but not the way we approach it, she said. This is more than just a group of teachers gathering to share lesson plans and crunch data.

Instead of each teacher having sole responsibility for 25 students or so, a lead teacher might have responsibility for 100 students, with others on the team sharing duties. For instance, they might divide responsibility for lesson plans, parent communication, technology and special education plans, based on interest and expertise. New teachers would always have backup in the classroom — but they also might pick up the bulk of lower-level duties such as supervising lunch and recess.

“When you have your best teachers doing recess or carpool duty, it’s like taking a pediatric surgeon, having them operate for an hour and then doing intake forms the rest of the day,” Truitt said.

Lead teachers get extra pay under the Arizona State model. North Carolina may not be ready to revise its pay scale, but the state is piloting an Advanced Teaching Roles program that lets districts rearrange budgets to provide up to an additional $20,000 a year for teachers who take on extra duties. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has pioneered that approach.

What it means for students

For students, the Next Education Workforce should mean spending significant time doing hands-on, small-group lessons that are tailored to their needs, with constant access to adults who can help them. If that sounds familiar, yes: It’s what teachers are already expected to do, under the label of “differentiation.”

“It is almost impossible for a single teacher to do,” the Next Education Workforce website says. “Building teams of educators with distributed expertise is a sustainable way to deliver deeper and personalized learning to all students.”

Andrew Smith, who leads the North Carolina DPI Office of Innovation, accompanied Truitt to the Mesa school visits. He recalled having little real-life preparation for taking on his first classroom: “Bless the kids I taught for that first year. They got a very, very green Andrew.” Under the Next Education Workforce Model, he told the state board, “They would have gotten Andrew plus a veteran.”

Smith also said he’s aware of “the shiny object syndrome,” which happens when a program like this gets national attention before results have been demonstrated. He said Mesa educators talked about seeing improvements in teacher retention and satisfaction, but solid data on teacher recruitment and retention has yet to play out. And demonstrating that this model brings better results for students is even further down the road. (Arizona State has mapped out a research agenda.)

Doesn’t require statewide change

Truitt only has a few months left in office, so she’s unlikely to see the statewide change in teacher pathways that she’s been pushing for. However, she encouraged district leaders and principals to check out opportunities to visit Arizona schools and see the model in action. Registration runs from $150 to $700 per person for one- or two-day site visits, and Truitt said educators might be able to find grants to cover expenses.

For anyone who wants to dive deeper, a book about The Next Education Workforce was published last year.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.