Accelerating Teacher Development and Impacting Student Achievement at Scale with DPSCD
Strengthening Instructional Culture and Outcomes in the Detroit Public Schools Community District
In order to accelerate teacher development and impact student achievement at scale, it’s critical to look at system-wide structures that will sustain improvement over time. Through the ModEL Schools Project, curriculum partners and district leaders work deeply with a set of schools to build instructional leadership capacity, elevate teacher practice in standards-aligned instruction and expand coherence across the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
In the 2018–19 school year, DPSCD rolled out a new, high-quality K‑8 curriculum to better align with Common Core Standards. While this elevated student learning, the district recognized the importance of augmenting the curriculum with deeper instructional support to achieve greater results.
As such, DPSCD selected four schools that showed early promise to be “ModEL Schools.” These schools received master teaching coaching, expert instructional coaching for leadership teams, opportunities to observe and adopt best practices nationally, and frequent data reflection cycles to ensure student achievement targets were met. DPSCD paired each ModEL School with two “Strategic Partnership Schools,” who also received access to professional development. In total, the program has transformed the instructional landscape in some 48 Detroit schools and improved the educational outcomes of nearly 25,150 students.
Coaching Teachers to Instructional Mastery
Teachers at ModEL Schools are given master teacher instruction from national experts with proven track records of success. Each school receives up to 8 days per month of teacher coaching in the Mathematics curriculum and 12 hours of teacher coaching per month in EL Education.
At Mann Learning Community, for example, teachers complete instructional rounds where they observe other teachers in a variety of classrooms. Expert consultants offer elbow-to-elbow coaching, providing critical strategies and techniques, working with teachers individually and collaboratively.
“One of our teachers wasn’t confident in teaching the fundamentals of the ESL program,” says Principal Georgina Tait of Mann Learning Community. “Through the program, she has been able to observe more skilled colleagues teaching in that same area, and receive coaching on using specific strategies. She has become more confident and is implementing a more rigorous, instructional approach. Her students are now excelling in that area.”
After one year of intentional training, many of the ModEL Schools and strategic partners demonstrated student outcomes that improved at a rate greater than the district. Nearly 10 schools, some of which were the lowest performing in the State, grew 10 or more proficiency points in one year in reading or math, or both.
In the 2020–2021 school year, the program is continuing to develop Instructional Leadership Teams. These teams maintain a clear focus on excellence in instruction and consistent and productive systems of improvement. Schools are transitioning from refining teacher practice of implementing curricula to teaching to meet students’ unique needs and increase student ownership of learning. The program is also aiming to develop ModEL classrooms in math and literacy and create a library of ModEL resources that serve as exemplars of teaching and learning across the district.
“It takes a big investment to intensely develop teachers who have never done this before to move student achievement outcomes,” says Gonzalez. “Thankfully with funding from the Detroit Children’s Fund, we have been able to expand the initiative beyond what we thought possible.”
Cultivating Great Leaders & Principals to Advance Systemic Change
In addition to elevating instructional capacity at the teacher level, the ModEL Schools program increased its objectives to incorporate leader development. The Detroit Children’s Fund’s close thought partnership with DPSCD helped the District consider the possibilities.
“One question DCF challenged us with was, ‘Do you think your principals are getting enough support?’” says Gonzales. “Now we are providing consistent, one-on-one coaching for our school leaders. The outcomes have been phenomenal.”
In September of 2020, DPSCD hosted a ModEL Schools Leader Launch that brought together 200 Principals, Assistant Principals, Master Teachers and district staff to share and discuss the milestones of the program. Panelists and breakout sessions included Master Teachers and leaders who shared their experiences, celebrated successes and offered critical insight and knowledge sharing for the coming school year.
Principal Georgina Tait says, “The collaboration has been one of the best parts of the program — amongst staff, the consultants, the ModEL School projects, and also, the relationships that I’ve been able to build with our Strategic Partner Schools. Our Strategic Partners have a similar makeup as our school, so we have some of the same needs. We’re gaining and sharing information, and giving and offering each other support.”
By developing people at all levels within the school, the program begins to reinforce the school as the unit of change. Jack Elsey, Chief Executive Officer of DCF says, “No one handed the District a development plan for success. They’re creating their own, based on the support their teachers and principals need most. Through this initiative, DPSCD is arguably doing some of the most important work in the country.”
Expanding the Possibilities in Education
Given these results, DPSCD has begun to realize the beginnings of a playbook for success. DPSCD’s next phase involves expanding the ModEL Schools program from four to 16 schools, and Strategic Partnership Schools from 8 to 32, with additional support for math content.
Now in the refinement phase of its five-year vision, DPSCD has had to shift its priorities due to the COVID pandemic. Thanks to a flexible funding philosophy, DPSCD was able to quickly reallocate DCF funds to create online learning modules with over 1,000 instructional videos, ensuring every school can implement the curriculum.
“Now we have to consider, ‘What does excellence look like when we’re online?’” says Gonzalez. DPSCD is continually reflecting on how to improve instructional materials to mirror the experience of students. This not only includes online learning but also expanding educational texts to include themes on social justice, equity and anti-racism. In addition, DPSCD is building teachers’ capacity to discuss controversial topics and elevate underrepresented voices.
“Continuing this type of work is really important because we want to be the best at this in the country,” says Gonzalez. “We owe it to our community and to our students to deliver on our commitment.”