Memphis City Schools: A Case Study in Teacher & School Leader Effectiveness


Memphis City Schools

The Challenge

As one of few districts to receive the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Intensive Partnership Grants in the fall of 2009, Memphis City Schools is boldly confronting its challenge of sub par student achievement and graduation rates.

Only six percent of all MCS students who take the ACT (less than four percent of total students) receive college-ready scores in all four-subject areas. Looming in the background of the district’s student achievement issue is the problem of teacher retention with nearly 20 percent of MCS teachers leaving after their first year, and more than 40 percent leaving within three years.

To meet this challenge head on and with strong support from the Gate’s Foundation, Memphis City Schools launched the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative or TEI. Since that launch, Memphis City Schools is working diligently to meet the goals of TEI by:

  • Changing who it hires to teach and how the district hires them
  • Redefining what the district means by “teaching effectiveness”
  • Building new tools to measure teacher performance
  • Focusing on providing the best in professional development and growth opportunities.

The Solution

To ensure that there is a highly effective, well-prepared teacher in front of every student, Memphis City Schools enlisted the support of stakeholders throughout the district (comprised of mostly teachers), and partnered with Insight Education Group to facilitate helping these stakeholder groups, not only define what best practices in teaching look like, but also build the tools to help measure teachers’ effectiveness while providing them with needed supports.

For months, Insight consultants and working group members sat together to develop what is now the Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM) Framework and Rubric, which has four domains and five performance levels that address effective teaching and learning practices.

After the TEM Framework development process, Insight consultants trained over 600 school and district leaders, as well as supported the development of TEM’s state certification standards and then certified over 600 school and district level observers at a pass rate over 95% on first attempt.

Insight Education Group facilitated these same observers coming together monthly as cohort members to share best practices, explore implementing coaching and school wide improvement approaches, develop school systems and structures that increase teacher effectiveness, and norm instructional videos.

A more common language now exists among teachers and school leaders that define effective teaching practices in ways that are measurable based on teaching and learning evidence.

The Results

Stronger Common Language and Rater Reliability

A more common language now exists among teachers and school leaders that define effective teaching practices in ways that are measurable based on teaching and learning evidence.

An initial comparison of Fall 2011 rater reliability and Spring 2012 rater results show a decrease in rating ranges for many of the TEM rubric domain indicators. These data suggest that observers are becoming better normed when rating teaching practices after just one school year as TEM observers.

Stronger Capacity through Support

  • More teachers report that the new process feels like “growth versus gotcha,” meaning that teachers’ areas for improvement are given attention through coaching actions defined in all teachers’ TEM Professional Growth and Support Plan.
  • Over 7,000 teachers received ongoing communication and professional development via multiple formats (face-to-face and media distribution) created by Insight Education Group.

Stronger Definitions of Roles and Responsibilities

School leaders are now truly instructional leaders given the TEM process. Every educator is observed at least 4 or 6 times every school year. Principals and assistant principals spend an overwhelming amount of their day either talking to teachers about instruction, observing instruction and planning or securing resources to support instruction.

Of the over 600 certified observers, almost 200 are central office administrators and support staff who are now in multiple schools and classrooms even more because they conduct observations, share feedback, and offer coaching to teachers. This is a clear demonstration of central office working in support of schools.

Aligned teaching and learning are even stronger in the district. Now that the TEM Framework is central to the district, the professional development department, regional superintendents’ offices, curriculum and instruction department, teacher effectiveness department, and leadership effectiveness department are working more cohesively to align their efforts.

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