Ryan Wise (file photo)

Ryan Wise (file photo)

A review of the new state program that pays experienced teachers more to be mentors for other teachers finds it’s too early to tell if system is actually helping students do better.

But some school administrators who are using the plan say it has been a boost to morale of teachers. Iowa Department of Education director, Ryan Wise, says there are already signs the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System is making an impact.

“All of the evidence shows that the strengthening of the teaching profession that’s indicated in the report — the improved collaboration, the improved professional development — all of those things will lead to improvements in instructional practice. We see that come out as well, that teachers believe their instruction is improving.”

Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Wise says he expects the improve teaching to eventually show up in student performance. “Improvement in student achievement doesn’t happen overnight,” Wise says, “we believe that by putting these foundations in place , strengthening the profession and improving instruction will ultimately lead to an improvement in achievement over time.”

Wise was asked about criticism that the program has created more “mini-administrators” in schools. “For me, teacher leaders spread out great teaching. These teachers are in classrooms every day, working with more and more students. So, while they may not have their own classes of kids — they are reaching more students than they ever did before,” Wise says.

Sioux City Schools Superintendent Paul Gausman, says he doesn’t agree with the criticism. “Frankly it has allowed us to use our strong leaders in education in new and better ways to reach even further than they were able to prior to the development of this system,” Gausman says. He says they are able to improve the way they teach using the best teachers.

“What this has allowed us to do is to take some of the strongest leaders we have in the instructional positions in our district and have them share that knowledge and that leadership across many classrooms and content areas,” Gausman says. “It is not necessarily content specific, because great teaching is great teaching, regardless of the content area.”

Benton Community School district instructional coach Andrea Townsley says the system is about teaching, not administration. “It can’t be that mini administrative role, that’s not what this was designed to do. It’s about supporting teachers, supporting students to best fit in their specific needs in their classrooms in order to improve student achievement,” Townsley says.

Another criticism of the program is that teachers are not required to participate with the mentor teachers. Education Department director Wise says the state gives each district a lot of room to develop their own plan and decide how they want to make it work.

Sioux City superintendent Gausman says they did not require everyone to take part as they wanted to slowly change the culture of teachers being on their own in the classroom. “We really believed in what we felt the research was showing us from others who had move to this kind of leadership model — that over time the culture would change. And it appears to be doing just that,” Gausman says. He says the teacher leaders take part in professional development and it has become known they are available to help teachers who might be struggling and they can help those teachers without being forced on them.

“If we have a struggling teacher that’s been identified as an example, the teacher leader over time because this culture has changed, is able to get in there in a non-threatening way and work on instructional strategies, work on things that often would exceed instructional strategies, classroom management — which is often a challenge that a struggling educator would have,” Gausman explains.

Kevin Ericson is a teacher in Nevada who says he seen the same cultural change in his district. “In the past I have never seen a teacher basically go and ask for help. They’ve always had to have somebody come in and say ‘this is what we see’,” Ericson says. “Right now I am seeing everybody is more comfortable with the teacher leaders, so we are going to each other, so we can observe each other and help each other.”

The system was rolled out in segments to the school districts, with 39 districts launching plans in the 2014-15 school year and 76 in 2015-16 school year. The report conducted by American Institutes of Research (AIR) focused only on the 39 districts in their second year of implementation during the 2015-16 school year.