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How one program helps students by keeping teachers in the classroom
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Research shows that quality teachers have more impact on student achievement than any other variable, but until now there has been no real career path for a great teacher to follow that doesn't take them out of the classroom. - photo by Eric Schulzke
Research shows that quality teachers have more impact on student achievement than any other variable, but until now there has been no real career path for a great teacher to follow that doesn't take them out of the classroom.

"When it comes to student performance on reading and math tests," concluded the RAND corporation in a 2012 study, "a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership."

It's a paradox that an educational consulting group in North Carolina is offering a program it calls "opportunity culture," which allows exceptional teachers to become multi-classroom mentors and coaches to less experienced teachers in their school, with corresponding increases in their pay and a broadening of their impact.

Charlotte, North Carolina, is testing this approach on a large scale, the Charlotte Observer notes, with opportunity teachers now in 17 schools, where the mentoring super teachers can earn up to $23,000 more per year.

"The program started in Charlotte as part of Project LIFT, the $55 million program to aid struggling west Charlotte schools," the Observer reports. "LIFT will soon post job openings for 20 more opportunity culture teachers this year, bringing their total to 55."

NPR did a segment on Whitney Bradley, an "opportunity culture" teacher at one of the Charlotte schools participating in the program this year.

"How do we create career paths for teachers, fabulous classroom teachers like Whitney Bradley, so we don't have to make them administrators?" professor Barbara Stengel of Vanderbilt University's Peabody College asked NPR. "They can still be in classrooms."

"The new hierarchy solves several problems at once," NPR reports. "The lead teacher becomes an automatic mentor to the teachers she oversees. The mid-level management position also helps the school justify paying them more while giving teachers something to aspire to that won't take them out of the classroom."