The A team

By Michael Jonas
November 1, 2009

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Two years ago, a former Worcester middle school teacher launched a small Boston nonprofit aimed at bringing excellent teachers to urban schools. Celine Coggins recruited a cohort of “teaching policy fellows” from the ranks of young teachers in local urban systems. The group met one evening a month for a year and a half, reviewing research on teacher policies, hearing from leading policy makers, and sharing thoughts from their own experiences in urban schools.

In April, they issued a proposal that challenges many of the bedrock industrial-model policies that have governed the teaching profession for decades. It calls for districts to identify effective teachers using rigorous evaluation criteria, potentially including student achievement data. The proposal calls for these teachers, dubbed Excellence Corps members, to make up no less than one-third of the teaching staff at underperforming, hard-to-staff schools. Such teachers would receive a base salary increase of 10 percent - with other staff at the school eligible for bonuses if they meet individual improvement goals and if the building meets schoolwide achievement targets.

“We think we’ll be able to demonstrate that you can improve student achievement because you’ve got the right people in place and you’ve got the right working conditions in place,” says Coggins, whose group received a $4 million grant from the Gates Foundation earlier this month to expand its work to five other cities across the country.