The Hill, March 13, 2021, by Thomas Toch and Lynn Olson.
The pandemic relief package that just cleared Congress includes no less than $126 billion for schools, and there’s talk in education circles of using a portion of the money to reduce class sizes by hiring thousands of teachers to increase social distancing in schools.
But scattered teacher shortages in parts of the country and in subjects like math and science raise the question of where the new teachers would come from. And paying teachers tens of thousands more once federal funding dries up will be difficult, likely creating the potential for widespread post-pandemic layoffs.
A smarter strategy for helping struggling students, both during and after the pandemic, would be to deploy existing staff more creatively than most schools do now. As it happens, some schools, school districts and charter school networks have been doing just that since the nation’s schools closed a year ago. By abandoning the traditional notion of what it means to teach — standing before the same roomful of students day in and day out for the duration of a school year — they have forged new staffing models and school schedules that play to teachers’ strengths, address shortages in key subjects and enhance learning.
The nonprofit Public Impact has helped introduce the concept in 45 school districts and charter management organizations in 10 states, where lead instructors manage as many as eight teachers, paraprofessionals and teacher residents in the same grade or subject. These team leaders coach teachers and track students’ progress while earning larger pay checks. Before the pandemic, a national study found that the teaching teams boosted students’ math and reading results significantly.