Saturday, June 18, 2005

Good to Great

For anyone who's interested in the direction of the Mississippi Teacher Corps I recommend the book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. It is an empirical study of companies that made the difficult transition from a successful company to an enduringly great one. In my humble opinion that is the crossroads at which we currently stand with the Mississippi Teacher Corps. MTC is the best alternate-route teaching program in the country. What makes us the best? I'm glad you asked. Let us count the ways:

1) Benefits. We offer more benefits than any other program. Full scholarship for a Master's. $1,000 stipend for the initial summer training. Teacher certification. Job placement. Free textbooks. Numerous socials and events. Free housing during the summer. Free housing during weekend classes. Closed classes; only MTC members allowed. Courses tailored specifically to MTC. Staff and faculty that are either experienced K-12 teachers or MTC alumni. Full pay and benefits from your school district. Wonderful group of like-minded, high-achieving people.

2) Support. Because we only accept 30 people each year there is a lot of individual support. I visit every teacher (first and second-years) at least once during the school year. Other faculty and staff visit. We have a retired principal who visits everyone twice during the first year. Individual meetings with both co-directors. Phone calls. Notes. We do it all.

3) Competitiveness. With the exception of Harvard University (10%) we are the most competitive academic or teaching program in the country with an 11% acceptance rate.

4) Satisfaction rate. We do an anonymous evaluation (one of many) at the end of the program. The last question asks participants to rate their satisfaction level with the program. Since we started assessing this (with the Class of 2002) 100% have indicated they were "Satisfied" with the program. Of that 100%, 90% indicated they were "Very satisfied."

5) Impact. The best and most important for last: The average increase in the passing rate on state-tests by students taught by first-year MTC teachers is 38%. Read the last sentence again. That is a staggering number that indicates the effect MTC is having on student learning. Please keep in mind that 90% of the districts we go into have more than 92% of their students on free and reduced lunch (meaning that more than 92% of the students are coming from households below the poverty line).

Two years ago the goal Dr. Mullins, Germain and I had was to make this the best alternate-route teaching program in the country. We've now achieved that goal which means that, other than outright failure, we are in the most precarious position a program, organization, or company can find itself in: that of being satisfied with where we are. So where do we go from here. Simple. The goal now is to be the best teacher-training program in the country, bar none.

The most important factor in any goal is that it is achievable. This goal is achievable for three reasons:

1) Small size. The first reason is that we are a small program. Because we only take 30 people each year we can take the absolute best of the best, people who are outstanding academic students, who are committed to service, and who have experience working with kids from a critical-needs type background. Because it is such a small group we offer more support than any other program.

2) Continuous feedback. Because we are a two-year program we can offer continuous evaluation and feedback to our teachers. We have implemented formal or informal observations more than 12 times during the first summer, at least three times during the first fall, and at least once during the second fall. Because of this continuous feedback our teachers know and work on their weaknesses to become master teachers. The way I've begun to think about MTC is as a residency program. After medical school doctors do a two-year residency. Well, this is our two-year residency program. And our residents are placed in some of the most challenging schools in the country.

3) Challenging schools. The schools where we place teachers are challenging. Most of the schools are classified Level 2 or lower (The State Department of Education ranks schools from Level 1 to Level 5 with Level 5 being the best and Level 1 being in imminent danger of takeover by the state). Although we always hope our teachers stay at their schools past the two-year commitment, no matter where they go they will succeed because they have been successful in some of the most challenging schools in the country.

For these three reasons we can achieve the goal of becoming the best teacher-training program in the country. Will we achieve this goal? I don't know. But we can, and from this point on that is what we should strive for. I give us five years.


Kimberly Wilson said...
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Kimberly Wilson said...

Ben, I have been researching Mississippi Teacher Corp for some time now. I applied last year and had the privilege to talk with you and ask you a few questions. I am in love with the program and will continue to apply until I get in. I am older and life has let me experience things so I am very clear with my goals and desire. I want to say thank you for the work you have done,are doing and will do to assist children and make the world just a little bit brighter.