Profiles in Transformation: Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools Professional Growth System
MONTGOMERY COUNTY (MD) PUBLIC SCHOOLS PROFESSIONAL GROWTH SYSTEM
Montgomery County, Maryland, Public Schools (MCPS) and the Montgomery County Education Association have used their collaboration on teacher professional growth to leverage National Board certification as a districtwide improvement strategy.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is a highly regarded independent governing body that offers a rigorous voluntary certification process for individual teachers. Montgomery County has one of the highest proportions of National Board-certified teachers in the country, thanks to a network of supports and incentives for teachers who pursue certification. Schools, the union, and the district all deploy National Board-certified teachers in a range of leadership positions.
The school system and union reached an agreement to adopt the NBPTS five core propositions as five of the six standards in its professional growth system, which lays out the processes for hiring, supporting, and evaluating teachers. The NBPTS standards have provided a common language for talking about teacher practice and have helped infuse NBPTS principles across the district.
Montgomery County boasts the highest high school graduation rate of any large district in the country. Its college readiness rates and college completion rates are higher than national averages overall and for African American and Latino students. In 2009, 65 percent of graduating seniors took at least one Advanced Placement exam, far above the state and national averages.
Professional Growth System Principles
When Jerry Weast took the helm as superintendent of MCPS, he prioritized closing achievement gaps by focusing on rigorous, college-preparatory standards for all students. The district and union both viewed excellent teaching as the linchpin of efforts to raise expectations.
District and union leaders saw great potential in the National Board certification process for raising the quality of teaching and developed a range of supports – including study groups, time off from teaching duties, and salary increases – for teachers pursuing certification.
The union and district then agreed to adopt the National Board’s core propositions as the basis of all teacher quality discussions. The propositions became the standards that underlie the district’s professional growth system, which directs all hiring, professional development, and evaluation. These standards are:
• Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
• Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.
• Teachers are responsible for establishing and managing student learning in a positive learning environment.
• Teachers continually assess student progress, analyze the results, and adapt instruction to improve student achievement.
• Teachers are committed to continuous improvement and professional development.
• Teachers exhibit a high degree of professionalism.
The professional growth system lays out growth cycles in which teachers set goals based on the standards, pursue training, and reflect on progress (completing National Board certification is one path to meeting the standards). Teachers receive formal evaluations based on written assessments. The standards form the foundation for professional development courses and for integrated individual and schoolwide professional development.
A key part of the Professional Growth System is Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), which provides support and evaluation to new teachers and struggling experienced teachers. Peer Assistance and Review has proven to be an effective and trusted evaluation process in Montgomery County and other districts.
At the core of the MCPS Professional Growth System is a wide range of incentives and supports to help teachers pursue the rigorous process of obtaining National Board certification. Montgomery County and the State of Maryland pay for teachers to be certified. Candidates are allowed two days of release time to work on their National Board portfolios, and at some schools they receive certification coaching from their school-based staff development teacher. Successful National Board-certified teachers receive an extra $4,000/year in salary.
Each year, the district provides two National Board instructional specialists to connect candidates to coaching and other supports, and the union provides one staff member to coordinate logistics for candidates.
At the same time, the district and union have worked hard to embed the core propositions and strategies of the National Board into a comprehensive system of supports for teachers. Staff development teachers at every school – many of them National Board-certified teachers – provide embedded professional development linked to the six standards. National Board-certified teachers also serve as team leaders and content specialists in middle schools.
The district’s Peer Assistance and Review program utilizes National Board-certified teachers in teacher evaluation and support. Consulting teachers (CTs) observe and support all new teachers as well as underperforming veteran teachers. Released from the classroom for two years, the CTs provide model lessons and coaching and submit written narrative evaluations for review by a panel of district administrators and teacher leaders.
Approximately 90 percent of novice teachers successfully complete the PAR process. Of the approximately seventy veteran teachers referred each year, about half successfully exit. As of 2010, approximately 325 teachers had been dismissed for failing to meet the professional growth standards.
The district and union plan to formalize teacher leadership opportunities into a “career lattice.” National Board-certified teachers and other experienced teachers who complete a National Board-like application process will be selected to serve as instructional leaders for three-year terms, after which they return to the classroom. Implementation of the career lattice is currently on hold due to budget constraints.
The state of Maryland covers two-thirds of the cost of certification, and Montgomery County pays for the remaining third for its candidates, as well as subsidizing related graduate-level coursework.
The state and the district each pay half of the extra salary paid to National Board-certified teachers.
The generous supports for pursuing National Board certification have encouraged high numbers of teachers to pursue certification. Montgomery County is among the top twenty districts nationwide in number of National Board-certified teachers; its 2009 cohort of eighty-five was the nation’s largest. Of the 11,500 teachers in the district, about 560 are National Board-certified teachers – up from two in 1998. National Board-certified teachers have a nearly 95 percent retention rate after five years. Overall teacher attrition after five years is 30 percent, well below the national average of 50 percent.
The district had the highest high school graduation rate – 83 percent – of any large school system in 2010. The gap between White and Hispanic students reaching proficiency in third-grade reading narrowed from 43 percent in 2003 to just 12 percent in 2009; the Black-White gap narrowed from 35 percent to 15 percent.
Nearly 65 percent of the graduating class took at least one Advanced Placement exam in 2009, and nearly half scored at least a 3 on an Advanced Placement or 4 on an International Baccalaureate exam. 47 percent of MCPS graduates receive a four-year college degree within six years, compared to 31 percent nationally.
Clearly, MCPS’s impressive student achievement results are not attributable solely to the increase in National Board-certified teachers. MCPS is a relatively wealthy district with only 30 percent of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch, and many other reforms are underway. Still, the district and union have focused on closing racial and economic achievement gaps and ensuring that all students graduate ready for college, and the careful investments in quality teaching and teacher leadership have been a centerpiece of that effort.
Montgomery County’s commitment to teacher quality and supporting teacher capacity rests on a high degree of trust between the district and the union. This trust was developed through collaboration on smaller projects, including the successful turnaround of Broad Acres Elementary, the district’s poorest and lowest-performing elementary school. The 2000 turnaround process provided extended time for teacher professional communities, a three-year commitment to the school by teachers, and National Board certification for thirteen Broad Acres teachers.
That track record of joint work was paired with a commitment from both the district and the union to supporting good teaching. According to Bonnie Cullison, Montgomery County Education Association president from 2003 to 2009, “The whole motivation was for teachers to take ownership of the profession and the craft.” In the 1990s, the union and school system shifted to a new collective bargaining model that prompted them to look for joint solutions rather than compromise. The National Board standards seemed promising because they were widely respected and provided an outside validation for the professional growth system. Both parties saw professional standards that could promote good practice as preferable to building teacher evaluation on “wobbly test scores,” in Weast’s words.