Teacher leadership system improving education in Iowa

Greene County district sees improvement

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg released two new reports Tuesday showing how Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation system is transforming the teaching profession statewide, with most school districts meeting their goals and most educators reporting improvements in their classroom instruction and professional environments.

The teacher leadership system taps into the expertise of top teachers to strengthen instruction and raise student achievement. Iowa has the most extensive teacher leadership system in the nation, with more than 25 percent of teachers in leadership roles.

This provides more support and greater collaboration for all teachers to learn from each other instead of operating in isolation within their classrooms. The system was phased in over three years; the 2016-17 school year marked the first year involving all 333 Iowa school districts. The system costs $157.4 million annually.

The Greene County district was one of the first to apply for the program and is now in its fourth year of the program.

According to school superintendent Tim Christensen, teachers report that going into the classrooms of model teachers to observe their methods has given them new things to try in their own classrooms.

The program has raised the level of teacher continuous growth plans, has increased collaboration with its shared leadership throughout the district, and has provided for more intervention and enrichment for students on either end of the achievement spectrum.
The district has received about $400,000 in state funds for the program each year, Christensen said.

“Iowa is leading the way in teacher leadership, which is about supporting teachers to do their best so that our students can do their best,” Gov. Reynolds, who was joined by Lt. Gov. Gregg, Iowa Department of Education director Ryan Wise and 2017 Iowa Teacher of the Year Shelly Vroegh of Norwalk, said in speaking Tuesday about the impact of the system. “Today’s students face higher expectations, and I’m proud that Iowa is supporting the increasingly challenging work that teachers must do to prepare children for success in college and career training.”

An end-of-year report from school districts showed three-quarters of school districts met their teacher leadership goals in the 2016-17 school year, with 85 percent meeting a goal to attract and retain teachers and 84 percent meeting goals for teacher collaboration and professional growth. Half of districts met their student achievement goals, which are based on a variety of measures including state and local assessments.

Statewide, the share of students in kindergarten through third grade who met or surpassed the state benchmark on screening assessments in reading grew 3 percentage points in the 2016-17 school year, following a 4 percentage-point gain the year before.

“It is encouraging that Iowa is making significant progress to improve the reading skills of children in kindergarten through third grade,” Reynolds said. “Still, there is work to do, and our administration will continue to look for ways to ensure Iowa’s teacher leadership system is even more effective.”

In a second report, an external evaluation conducted by American Institutes for Research, Iowa teachers and administrators reported the teacher leadership system is effective in improving instruction, particularly in the 115 districts that joined the teacher leadership system in the first two years.

The external evaluation gauged the early progress of Iowa’s system in the areas of teacher leadership, support for teachers, teacher collaboration, and perceived outcomes. The evaluation was based on surveys, interviews and focus groups, as well as data. Other findings included:
• Large majorities of teachers and administrators reported that the teacher leadership system had a positive impact on their professional work environment.
• Teachers reported improved teaching and learning through access to instructional coaches.
• Teacher retention rates remained stable before and after teacher leadership implementation, with districts on average retaining 90 percent of their teachers.
• Student achievement remained largely unchanged in early implementation of teacher leadership. This finding was based on the state assessment, which is a more limited measure than the year-end report from school districts.

“Although Iowa is still in the early stages of the teacher leadership system, we know the investment is paying off and will have a lasting return over time,” Gregg said. “Great teaching is the biggest influence on student learning inside schools, and Iowa’s teacher leadership system sets the stage for our educators to prepare students for success beyond high school.”

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