How the BTU can help the Renaissance Charter School.

Yesterday (Saturday Feb 23rd) the Boston Globe ran an editorial about the Renaissance Charter School, one of the oldest charter schools in the state and one that, until recently, was hailed as a shining example of how charter schools supposedly outshine their traditional district counterparts.  According today’s Globe editorial, test scores at the Renaissance have plummeted (Pioneering Renaissance School must explain recent woes) and the honchos at the Globe are demanding answers.

For the sake of disclosure, I should mention that I am a teacher in a traditional, unionized BPS school and I am a staunch opponent of the current charter funding mechanism and the constant drumming in the press that charter school success (what little they have to show) is somehow based on the lack of a collective bargaining agreement for charter school employees. But that much aside, I do know that at many individual charter schools (even the many that are struggling; and there are MANY that are struggling) there are a large number of serious, hardworking educators who care about children and who work hard to do the right thing by the kids and families they serve.  The same is also true of true of traditional district schools as well.

That much said I would like to offer a genuine proposal to help my fellow educators at the Renaissance improve their instruction and raise their students test scores – at least in sixth grade math (which The Globe identifies as an area of weakness at the school).

Over the last three years, the Boston Teachers Union, in partnership with the Boston Public Schools and the American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund, has launched a cutting-edge initiatve called 21st Century Lessons which brings together exemplary educators to create full units of innovative lessons that are embedded with best practices and aligned to standards. Each unit contains everything that an educator needs to deliver the highest quality instruction possible including PowerPoint presentations, teacher notes, homework assignments, practice activities, and assessments, all of which can be modified by educators to meet the specific needs of their students and/or classroom. These units have been uploaded to two websites where they can be downloaded by educators here in Massachusetts and around the world – free of charge.  The units have not been online very long and already they have been viewed over 30,000 times with almost 10,000 download.  They are being used  by thousands of teachers who work at both traditional and charter schools in at least 47 states around the country.

Will these units help educators at the Renaissance improve student achievement?

In a word: yes.  According to two years of controlled (and randomized) testing, the students who are taught by teachers using these units experience 20-25% more growth (pre vs. post tests) when measured against teachers who use their own lessons or some other curriculum.  Also according to our user satisfaction survey data, our most frequent users rate the quality of these units as a ”9″ on a scale of 1-10.

Where can educators find these lessons?

Currently there are three units of sixth grade math, and two units of middle school social studies.  They can be found at and  Educators who use them will need to create user accounts at one or both of these sites (which is free).  Once an account is created, our units can be found by using the search phrase “21st Century Lessons” or by clicking on the following links.

On our lessons can be found by clicking here.

On our units can be found by clicking here.

If there is some problem accessing these materials, feel free to respond to me on Twitter @TedChambers.

In closing, I would like to mention that we now have decades of data shows us what works, and what does not work in education.  Segregating kids does not work (assuming that one care about educating all children).  Arguing about which model of governance is “best” is completely pointless because there is not a shred of data that shows that a “singular” model for excellence exists.  Getting rid of collective bargaining agreements does not positively impact student achievement (see: Alabama and Tennessee).  And hammering kids with standardized tests and overly rigid systems of discipline is not ultimately going to fix anything.

Over all, the only thing that increases student achievement is improving instruction, but instead of putting instruction first and foremost the debate in education reform is still mired in a pointless argument about ideas that are decades old and can hardly be considered ‘innovative’ anymore.  For more than twenty years now we have been arguing about which model of school governance works best and we have completely ignored the fact that in both traditional and charter schools teachers are still forced to follow a work model that is literally 19th century in origin.  In this day and age, with all of the data and technology available to us – this situation is absolutely unconscionable.  There is no ‘magic bullet’ in education.  There is no simple button we can push that will automatically solve all of the problems and challenges facing education, but we can make it much easier for teachers every where to deliver higher quality instruction on a more consistent basis.  Using the Common Core Standards as our guide, we can now bring great teachers together to create amazing units of lessons, lessons that increase student engagement and student achievement.  We can then use the Internet to make sure that EVERY teacher in every school has access to the tools they need to deliver the highest quality instruction – every single day.

That’s what 21st Century Lessons is all about, and that’s the kind of leadership and innovation that the Boston Teachers Union and its members are bringing to the discussion around education reform.

Follow me on Twitter: @TedChambers


14 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Agreed! Why reinvent the wheel!

    Agreed! Why reinvent the wheel! I have used both and and have found both to be excellent resources and a real time saver for me.

    • There needs to be a fundamental change...

      …in the way that teachers work together to plan curriculum and lessons. There is absolutely no reason why millions of teachers should be forced to ‘go it alone’ when it comes to planning great lessons. It’s absurd in the extreme. Instead, the Commonwealth should take the lead in creating a system where great teachers work together to create full units of great lessons for other districts and other teachers to use if they choose to. If teachers want to use their own lessons – fine, so long as they pass muster with their evaluators and district administrators. We should never take that power or voice away from teachers ever. But we should stop kidding ourselves as well. Why are we forcing 100,000 teachers at each grade level and discipline to go home at night and do it all by themselves. I defy anyone to show me another discipline or industry where this kind of work model would be considered efficient or acceptable.

      • Sadly though...

        the pointless argument over privatization keeps us from having a serious discussion about how can create a vision that advances high quality educational experience for all kids.

      • Hm

        I agree with much you say…it is absurd that thousands of persons are individually creating lessons on standard skills such as two-digit multiplication or constructing compound sentences.

        However, at the same time, I break agreement with the idea of asking “evaluators and district administrators” to approve lessons. Asking those who’ve been outside the classroom for over a decade, may be rank outsiders on the subject being taught, and are already overworked to do that is not a good idea. The result will be more standardization and greater removal of relevance from what happens in the classroom on a daily basis.

        sabutai   @   Sun 24 Feb 3:27 PM
        • Or worse,

          Administrators with 5 years in education telling everyone what to do.

        • Good enough for evaluation

          Sabutai, valid points all around. What I really mean is that we provide lessons that are good enough to receive high marks during evaluations, not necessarily pre-approval.

          • I agree

            I’ve long agitated for a DESE database of quality lessons. However, they seem uninterested in the idea — partially because I define quality as “engaging and original” rather than “using a different type of graphic organizer to suck any interest out of what you’re reading”.

            sabutai   @   Sun 24 Feb 9:16 PM
            • What does the

              DESE do? Besides run a not particularly user-friendly website? Do they cut the ribbon at charter school openings? What?

              I saw Paul Reville and Mitchell Chester at a forum once. Chester sat there, half looking like a mobster, and spinning his phone like it was a top on the table.

              • Uhm....uh....

                They, uh, do education? I guess?

                sabutai   @   Mon 25 Feb 6:40 PM
                • We met with DESE to discuss this idea...

                  They told us that they were going to spend a portion of the RTTT grant to bring committees of teachers together to create “units of study”, which are essentially lesson plans/outlines. There were going to be multiple committees that met over an extended period of time and eventually they would release these ‘products’ to teachers as models of what teachers should being on their own.

                  I am not sure how much money they have spent on these units of study so far, but I would venture a guess that it is substantially more than we have spent creating the 350 documents that are part of our five units (with three more units coming this summer). And I have been told by some very good sources (outside of our union) that they have seen the initial products and that the quality is… should I say this nicely? Not good.

                  And this is a classic example of state policy makers using large sums of taxpayer funds to reinforce the traditional work model that has existed for 150 years or more. How does this make any sense on any level?

                  I am not arguing that there should only be a single set of predetermined lessons for each individual standard in the Common Core. There could be many different lessons – but they should come as full units, be created and reviewed by teams of expert teachers, embedded with best practices, modifiable by teachers, linked to additional resources, and come with all of the supplementary materials needed for teachers to: 1) deliver great instruction, and; 2) gain ‘real time’ professional development as they deliver great lessons. And of course, they should be free to teachers everywhere.

                  • I did see postings on this

                    I’ll be interested to see what comes out of it. Call me cynical, but there’s a reason you don’t need the letters DESE to spell “success”.

                    sabutai   @   Tue 26 Feb 7:24 PM
  2. Agreed: we should be focusing on better outcomes rather than governance issue

    This is another example of how teacher unions can be a leader in bringing our education system into the 21st century. Focus on what works! Keep up the good work, Ted!

    robbsmith   @   Sun 24 Feb 1:46 PM
  3. 3 thoughts

    1. Thanks for this. I will check it out. Agree generally on need for materials like this.

    Request: Where can I read the randomized trial? I love those generally, and would love to read it.

    2. I work at a charter school, so I disagree with your characterization of us. But agree no magic bullet, including charters.

    3. Random –, which you’re using to share your materials, was actually created by a teacher from a Boston charter school. FWIW.

    • Right now we are using two platforms

      I will work backwards.

      1. Yes, we are fully aware that BetterLesson was started by a former charter school teacher. We’ve been close to the folks at BL for a number of years and have actually co-presented our work at a conference with one of BL’s cofounders.

      I should mention that ShareMyLesson was started by the National American Federation of Teachers as well. So there are folks on both sides of the union and charter school split who are getting into this work. Our focus has been using this as common ground to share great lessons and strategies for teachers everywhere.

      2. As for accessing the randomized study, send me a message on Twitter and I will provide you a copy.

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