September 17, 2009

YES Prep: Teaching Excellence

This case study explores the “nuts and bolts” of how YES Prep Public Schools, a charter organization based in Houston, Texas, succeeds in preparing low-income students not only to graduate from high school, but also to enter college ready to meet the challenges of a post-secondary education.

You can be an effective teacher in the first year if you are the right type of person and are given the right type of support. (Jennifer Hines, Chief People and Program Officer)

The biggest teacher development challenge is to turn talented “amateurs” into effective teachers as quickly as possible. YES Prep’s students don’t have the time to wait for a rookie teacher to use their first year to figure out how to teach. “About five years ago, we realized that we needed to help develop the teachers that we needed,” recalls Jennifer Hines. “So once we find these people with the raw ingredients, we put them through a year of really intensive on-the-job training.” YES Prep created its Teaching Excellence program to ensure that all teachers have the knowledge and skills that are needed to be effective with YES students. The approach works, as last year, 55 percent of first-year teachers achieved proficiency on YES Prep’s performance management rubric, a comprehensive and highly rigorous set of expectations.

The Teaching Excellence Program begins with 80 hours of pre-service summer training. The goal is for each teacher to feel fully prepared to tackle the intense challenge of the first semester. More than two-thirds of the time in pre-service training is spent on classroom culture and management. The base ingredient for new teacher success: a structured approach to classroom and discipline management. 

Each new teacher is paired with an instructional coach to work with throughout the first year. Coaches, who are selected from a pool of high-performing teachers, act as mentors, guiding new teachers through a curriculum that includes core skill-building, tactics for day-to-day problem solving, and tailored personal development. (Separately, the coach position represents a career-track opportunity for teachers.) After experimenting with coach-to-new-teacher ratios of as high as 20:1, YES Prep’s leaders have found that a 12:1 coaching ratio effectively balances resource constraints with the hands-on support required for new teacher success. With this ratio, coaches have the capacity to be in each new teacher’s classroom every 7 to 10 days, observing their lessons, modeling important skills, and working directly with students.

As Ellen Winstead, a school director and the creator of the Teaching Excellence program, explains, coaches and teachers have a “relationship of responsibility that gives meat to expectations and makes coaches more than glorified mentors.” Accountability is critical, as YES Prep makes it clear that new teachers are expected to deliver results for students and the teaching excellence program helps create a “no excuses” environment.

On average, the program costs YES Prep $8,000 per new teacher, which compares favorably to other nonprofit teacher training programs. For example, Bridgespan analysis of a leading nonprofit teacher training indicates that it spends an estimated $17,000 a year to recruit, train, place, and support each teacher. [2] Starting this year, YES Prep will begin operating as an official Alternative Certification Program sanctioned by the State of Texas, which will enable it to charge $3,700 per new teacher to cover some of those costs (this is slightly lower than the $4,500 - $5,500 market rate for most certification programs).

Next: Ensuring Accountability for Student Success >> 

[2] Estimate based on dividing total program costs by total number of program participants (from annual report of program); may include some overhead that is not included in the YES Prep cost.

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