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Teachers, Reformers and the “Real Fight”: NewSchools Venture Fund

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Salmon’s point fits into a narrative that’s increasingly popular, problematic, and, I think, false: that “reformers” and teachers are natural enemies. The “reform” side, as it’s been called over the past several years (there are worse labels), is not monolithic, but is generally applied to those of us who, roughly speaking, believe education will be improved by:

accountability for student learning at many levels—school systems, schools, and teachers

public school choice, especially charter schools

disruptive innovation, meaning new, ultimately more effective and/or efficient ideas and processes that offer alternatives to, and ultimately disrupt, established processes

Alternative, entrepreneurial routes for teacher preparation (examples range from Teach For America to Relay Graduate School of Education)

the participation of entrepreneurial organizations, nonprofit and for-profit, that bring innovative approaches, autonomy and accountability to solving key problems in public education

commitment to a core belief that public schools can make a major difference in life trajectories in low income communities

Fundamental to most, or maybe all, of these points is a belief that teachers are incredibly powerful. Studies demonstrate that the effectiveness of the teacher has enormous influence over a student’s academic and life trajectory, and that the quality of teaching makes more difference than anything else inside of a school. In the past several years, folks on the “reform” side have been vocal in pushing systems to turn that understanding into action, probably most powerfully through a seminal 2009 report from The New Teacher Project (a NewSchools venture) called the Widget Effect. That report has helped to drive a widening consensus that our school systems need to be better at recognizing various levels of teacher performance, and reacting accordingly – to figure out which ones should be models for others; which ones are doing fine; which ones need support, and which few are not benefiting students and should leave the profession.