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NOTICE: The Charter Vision project is dormant as of January 2008. This website is provided for archival purposes only.

EdVisions Cooperative: Teachers in Professional Practice

Charter school skeptics often ask, “What’s really different about these schools anyway?” When they do, a good place to take them is any of a dozen charters in Minnesota where the teachers are organized as professionals — more like a law firm or medical practice than your typical “teacher as worker” public school.

The oldest of these teacher-run charters is Minnesota New Country School (MNCS) in Henderson. Opened in the fall of 1994, MNCS serves approximately 120 students in grades 7-12. The non-profit MNCS contracts with EdVisions Cooperative that has members who work in nine other schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The teachers — who prefer to be called “advisors” — each work with 15-20 students across grade levels under a curriculum that is project-based. The advisors also share administrative and support functions needed to keep the school and its facility up and running.

MNCS advisors are convinced that the incentive structure is better under their professional practice model, leading to their increased willingness to keep up-to-date with research-based learning, theories and discussions. This type of management arrangement also allows teachers to block off more time to develop and improve their professional development plans. The MNCS advisors review themselves in the fall, at mid-year, and at the end of the year, so professional development plans are never idle. In addition, each advisor’s plan includes professional, school and personal goals. Each advisor is also able to create joint goals with other staff members.

At MNCS, the teacher cooperative allows the advisors to consistently strengthen their knowledge about how to make sound management decisions and increase accountability. A professional practice arrangement has also improved the advisors’ time-management, they say, mainly because decisions are made at the source. If something in the curriculum or culture isn’t working, the MNCS advisors can address the problem within 24 hours, eliminating the bureaucratic red tape of working through superiors who aren’t familiar with day-to-day happenings at the school.

The teachers at MNCS also believe their management arrangement has lead to higher performing students. On a daily basis, students observe teachers working together to learn from their experience and to make the school a better place. Also relevant to student performance, MNCS advisors say that, because ownership allows them more time to stay up-to-date with the latest research and development, they are able to more consistently improve the learning program — with resulting improvements in student achievement. MNCS’s teachers say that their ability to make changes to the learning program at a rapid pace has also helped improve student performance.