Silva, E. (2008, April). The Benwood plan: A lesson in comprehensive teacher reform. Washington, DC: Education Sector. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://www.educationsector.org/usr_doc/TheBenwoodPlan.pdf
Author: Silva, E.
This is a report on the "Benwood Initiative," a series of educational reform efforts implemented in urban Chattanooga schools between 2001 and 2007. The plan is named for the Chattanooga-based Benwood Foundation, the chief funding source. These reforms sparked impressive gains in student achievement in inner-city Chattanooga schools, and have earned the Benwood Initiative the attention of the media, educational policy-makers, and districts and educators across the country.
The Benwood Initiative was entirely teacher-centered: It aimed to get better teachers in classrooms, implemented effective teacher training through mentoring programs, provided teachers strong support on curriculum and instruction and in administration, and created incentives for those teachers who showed student gains. The superintendent explained, "Nothing mattered more than getting strong leaders in those schools and good teachers in front of those kids" (p. 6).
Much of the media attention has focused on the aspect of the reform initiative that aggressively restructured and redistributed the schools' teaching staffs. Every teacher in every school was required to reapply for their jobs, and the district aggressively recruited new talent to fill vacancies. While these tactics have attracted considerable media attention, Silva credits other aspects of the reform project for the substantial gains in student achievement: those that invested in promoting teacher effectiveness. These important aspects of the Benwood Initiative included the following: implementing a teacher mentoring program; restructuring union and district contracts to make teacher transfer and recruitment easier for schools; placing all district instructional support staff inside schools; offering a free master's program to Benwood teachers; adding reading specialists, and eventually literacy coaches, in every school to help teachers improve literacy instruction; and providing leadership coaches to work one-on-one with school leadership teams.
The Benwood schools boast a revitalized, cohesive, and collaborative teaching environment that promotes student learning. According to Silva's report, the Benwood teachers cite the "opportunity to work in a school with a visionary principal and a professionally supportive environment as their top reasons for choosing to work in Benwood schools" (p. 10).
Silva's report concludes with what can be learned from the Benwood Initiative. Although bold, the restructuring of the teaching staff is not the primary point of learning, according to Silva. Instead, Silva asserts that the Benwood teachers became more effective, and promoted significant student achievement gains, because they got the community, financial, and professional support they needed.
This report emphasizes the importance of teachers. Silva argues that teacher effectiveness is not fixed, but instead is affected by environment. The Benwood Initiative worked to improve the environment for teachers, and thus, promote their professional development and efficacy. This report is an important reminder that school improvement efforts, including literacy coaching programs, must focus on helping teachers become more effective, and is a recommended read for school administrators, district policy makers, literacy and instructional coaches, and educators involved in school reform.
Date Added: 04/18/2008
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