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High School Achievement Series: It’s Simple Math: Recruiting Highly Effective Teachers + Right Supports = Increased Student Achievement


Image of Simple Math High School Achievement Forum PanelA diverse group of educators, administrators, policymakers and other key stakeholders gathered on December 10 to learn about Cumulative Effect (CE), a Guilford County, NC promising practice that aims to attract, support, and retain highly effective math teachers for low-performing high schools. The event—hosted by the Alliance for Excellent Education—detailed the programmatic elements of CE, as well as specific federal policy lessons to be learned from its implementation. It also provided key perspectives about the program from the district, school, and classroom levels.

Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, opened the forum by noting that research is now showing what many have long known: that teachers matter—in fact they are they greatest in school influence on student achievement. Gov. Wise added that the greatest challenge, however, is getting the most effective teachers to work in the lowest-performing schools.

Dr. Amy Holcombe, Guilford County Schools (GCS)’ executive director of talent development, described the initial problem leading to the development and implementation of the CE program: GCS, a diverse district with a high minority population and poverty rate, consisted of schools performing at a range of levels that had varying degrees of success in recruiting teachers. Using its wealth of data, the district recognized that high poverty and low-performing high schools had a particularly difficult time recruiting and retaining qualified math teachers. She said that by using district money, as well as private foundation funds and a federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant, the district designed the CE initiative.

The program’s goal is to reduce the achievement gap in high school mathematics classes by recruiting, supporting, and retaining highly effective math teachers to teach in the district’s hardest-to-staff high schools. The components of the program include matching CE teachers with mentors, requiring intensive professional development addressing mathematics content and pedagogical practice, infusing technology into classroom instruction, reducing class sizes, and offering teachers recruitment and performance incentives. Dr. Holcombe asserted that CE has increased the district’s ability to attract and retain more effective teachers in CE schools, and has decreased the gap in math achievement between students in CE and non-CE schools.

While the program currently only uses value-added data to allocate performance bonuses, Dr. Holcombe  noted they were considering including a richer combination of factors to determine effectiveness, including adding a leadership development component for CE school principals. She added that North Carolina, a right-to-work state, provides a cooperative policy climate for the implementation of CE programs, a climate that may not be present in schools in other states.

Profile image of two audience members (male left, female right).Ms. Cynthia Cobia, a math teacher at Middle College at Bennett College in Guilford County, described the impact of CE on math teachers, stating that teachers see the value of CE professional development components and utilize the technology in classrooms. Because the district assesses the needs of each teacher when pairing them with mentors, she said her mentor proved valuable even though she was an experienced and effective teacher. Ms. Cobia added that that she uses the value-added data on which CE’s performance incentives are based as a yardstick to mark progress as a teacher and identify areas that need improvement.

Dr. Noah Rogers, principal at Ben L. Smith High School in Guilford County, elaborated on the use of the performance measures, describing how teachers in his school accept the value of the data as it provides guidance and highlights teacher impact on students. Dr. Rogers noted that CE, in addition to various other positive changes enacted, aided the school in earning the Hubert B. Humphrey, Jr. School Improvement Award.

Ms. Candace Crawford, senior associate for pre-K–12 school and district assistance at The Education Trust, commented on the policy implications of CE programs, pointing out that recruitment problems encountered by low-performing GCS high schools were indicative of similar schools’ experience across the country. She described the ways that CE components are rooted in research, stressing math teachers’ content knowledge and the impact of teacher effectiveness (or lack thereof) on student achievement. Ms. Crawford urged that the federal government support states in their efforts to create longitudinal databases enabling CE data-driven decisionmaking processes. Additionally, she said that funding must be made available for research exploring effective strategies for balancing teacher distribution and leadership influence in attracting effective teachers to low-performing schools.

In closing, Governor Wise—while recognizing the country’s current severe economic crisis—warned that students who drop out of high school, or graduate without college- or work-ready skills, are an additional and greater strain on the economy. Placing and retaining effective teachers in classrooms, he said, is an important step in addressing the dropout crisis.

Presentation: It’s Simple Math: Recruiting Highly Effective Teachers + Right Supports = Increased Student Achievement PDF filePDF

Case Study: Cumulative Effect: Teacher Incentive Program PDF filePDF


audioAudio* and videoVideo (Windows Media) of the Entire Event

I. Welcome and Introductions

Governor Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent EducationGovernor Bob WisePresident, Alliance for Excellent Education videoVideo






AchTchr_Miller01 2Ms. M Miller, State Policy and Advocacy Associate
, Alliance for Excellent Education videoVideo






II. Presentation

AchTchr_Holcombe01 (1) 2Dr. Amy Holcombe, Executive Director, Talent Development, Guilford County Schools (NC) videoVideo

Presentation: It’s Simple Math: Recruiting Highly Effective Teachers + Right Supports = Increased Student Achievement PDF filePDF





AchTchr_Cobia01 2Ms. Cynthia Cobia, Teacher, Middle College at Bennett College (NC) videoVideo






AchTchr_Rogers01 2Dr. Noah Rogers, Principal, Ben L. Smith High School (NC) videoVideo






III. Response

AchTchr_Crawford01 2Ms. Candace Crawford, Senior Associate, The Education Trust videoVideo






IV. Question and Answer

AchTchr_QA01 2videoVideo






V. Closing Remarks

AchTchr_Wise02 2Governor Bob WisePresident, Alliance for Excellent Education videoVideo


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