Teacher evaluation and efforts to tie teacher performance to compensation are hot topics these days. But they are symptoms of a much more fundamental problem: the education sector does not have a human capital management system.
Schools and districts across the country are at the very beginning stages of envisioning and, in a few places, developing such a system—one that defines teaching excellence and that organizes teacher preparation, selection, induction, tenure decisions, career opportunities, performance management, compensation, and rewards based on that definition. And we are just beginning to fathom how creating such a system will redefine our work.
I have lived through phases of building such a system in Boston and helped shepherd the change process in several other large urban districts. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems there are lessons worth sharing to make this process more efficient in other districts as they come to this work.
The Tip of the Iceberg
As a senior leader in Boston Public Schools, I helped design and launch the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) starting in 2003. BTR was a response to a specific problem: like many school districts, Boston Public Schools had persistent shortages of qualified teachers in particular subjects and particular schools. BTR is an innovative program—an attempt by the district to recruit candidates directly and then to offer a clinically focused preparation program tailored to Boston's unique needs.
As we immersed ourselves in this work, however, we realized it was just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg, which lay just beneath the surface, revealed what is entailed in creating a human capital management system that recruits, supports, holds accountable and retains highly effective teachers. To realize the full benefit of BTR we had to ensure consistent and complementary changes across each of these elements of the system which had previously been both siloed and underdeveloped.
For example, we hadn’t even graduated our first class of residents before we realized that the district needed a more comprehensive approach to induction. In creating a rigorous preparation program we had raised the expectations of new teachers for what a career in teaching entailed, as well as the expectations of the district, which wanted to deploy these new teachers immediately to address its areas of highest needs. To meet these expectations, new teacher support needed to be bolstered and made more directly relevant. This required that the district develop standards of effective teaching that would serve as the foundation for induction support, teacher evaluation, tenure decisions, and ultimately ongoing professional development.
Identifying the most effective teachers to provide induction support demanded that we define criteria of excellence. For instance, in addition to the standards for practice, we needed to look at student achievement results. We also needed to redesign induction support as a compelling leadership opportunity. And then there was the question of how to define the role and compensation of these teacher leaders in the context of a rigid structure that had been designed to reward years of service and credits earned.
Mind you, these were the issues that surfaced just in the first year of the program!
Once BTR graduates had taught for several years and were approaching mastery, some grew restless. They were interested in applying what they had learned in their preparation and induction in a larger context and wanted to take leadership roles in their schools or the district. Opportunities in these arenas had largely been informal and inconsistent to date, and the district was confronted with the need to create career pathways for excellent teachers and further leverage their skills to ensure greater retention. This would both protect the district’s investment and increase the talent pool (see “Once A Teacher, Always A Teacher?”
in this issue).
With each new development, it was becoming clear that what had started as a program to prepare highly effective teachers was, of necessity, evolving into a comprehensive human capital management system. Roles for teachers had to be recast and differentiated to address the needs and interests at different points in their careers and across levels of performance. Likewise, central office personnel wrestled with new expectations that focused on being data driven and responsive and rewarded employees who could help solve problems and support school-level decisions.
Toward a New Framework
Since I left the Boston Public Schools, I have worked with many urban districts, each of which is struggling with similar issues. Whether their entry point is the development of an urban teacher residency or an effort to lure the most effective teachers to work with struggling learners or to anchor a school turnaround, everyone quickly comes to the same recognition: even well-designed and executed plans to improve and leverage teacher quality are undermined if they are undertaken in isolation and leave in place traditional practices in human resources, professional development, budgeting, and other essential areas. Maximizing human capital demands comprehensive, aligned systems—not one-off programs and ever-better work in the traditional silos.
Over the course of several workshops sponsored by the Aspen Institute, I worked with a group of practitioners, policy makers and people representing organizations that partner with school systems on human capital issues to create a framework (see figure below) for developing human capital systems. It reflects the interconnection between the elements of the system and proposes a roadmap that districts can take to address these issues effectively. While context and capacity inform the place from which districts start to build such a system and the pace of the work, the following elements of the framework are constant and guide the process:
- Recruitment and Preparation
- High Support, and High Bar for New Teachers
- New Roles & Responsibilities for Second Stage Teachers
- Performance Management, Compensation and Rewards
Judy Wurtzel, current deputy undersecretary for the US Department of Education and former director of the Aspen Institute’s Education and Society Program, and I recently published the framework in a book, Teaching Talent: A Visionary Framework for Human Capital in Education
(Harvard Education Press, 2009) that includes concrete examples of new approaches in each element of the framework, written by the people who are leading this work in the field. The book also addresses head-on how the work of principals and school districts has to change to bring to life a human capital management system and sustain it. It offers specific recommendations on how to expand on the best efforts underway and get beyond the mistakes of the past. But perhaps, most important, it ties all the pieces together in a way that will allow districts to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
The teacher quality issue isn’t going to go away nor should it. It is what will keep us striving to ensure every child has access to a high-quality education. Building a human capital management system is what will support districts in their effort to raise the bar for quality and ensure the necessary supports are in place to ensure talented teachers meet it.
Rachel Curtis is coeditor of Teaching Talent: A Visionary Framework for Human Capital in Education (Harvard Education Press, 2009) and former assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in the Boston Public Schools.