Alumna speaks on school reform
Maria Fenwick ’03 came to the College on Nov. 29 to give a presentation about Teach Plus, a program that works to keep good teachers in struggling urban schools.
Fenwick graduated summa cum laude from the College with a degree in human development. She went on to earn a master’s degree in education policy management from Harvard University in 2004 and a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Massachusetts in 2005.
The philosophy behind Teach Plus is that teachers are the most important factor in student achievement, and they get better over time. Therefore, in order to improve urban school districts, there needs to be a focus on keeping teachers at these schools. The problem that these districts have is that the majority of teachers leave these schools within the first three years of teaching.
Teach Plus tries to address the issues of limited professional growth opportunities and the pattern that all teachers, regardless of skill, are treated the same. The teachers have limited abilities in making big picture decisions and have few incentives to do so, monetary or otherwise. Isolation from other good teachers and a hierarchy based on the number of years at a school are also challenges. These are the main reasons why good teachers leave the urban schools where they are most needed.
Fenwick believes that such problems need to be taken care of in order to give students the opportunity to learn and make a better life for themselves. “Our end goal is to raise student achievement. This starts with good teachers,” she said.
One of Teach Plus’ programs is the Teaching Policy Fellows, which they use to make an impact by focusing on education policy. The fellows seek to improve and guide policy implementation, advocate for policy changes and develop new policy ideas. As Fenwick said, “We want to improve the achievement of urban children by ensuring that a greater proportion of students have access to excellent, experienced teachers.”
The Teaching Policy Fellows program seeks to make big picture changes in governmental education policy, which could really impact teacher and student life. The teachers are the essence of this program because they are the ones who are in the classrooms every day and therefore understand what really needs to improve.
Another of Teach Plus’ programs is the Teach Plus Network, which is open to anyone and gives teachers the opportunity to get to know one another, talk about education and the changes needed and provide feedback on policies. Their slogan, “Connect. Learn. Be a Voice,” shows that they are working toward creating a community that provides teachers with opportunities for social connectedness and to give them opportunities to improve their job experience.
Teach Plus has prospered so far, beginning in Boston in 2009. The organization has already spread to Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis and Washington, DC and is now starting a chapter in Indianapolis.