Teacher Excellence Program (TEP)


Focus Area

  • Education

“Porter-Leath is working to make strides to end the painful cycle of generational poverty through one of Memphis’s greatest and most precious resources: it's teachers.”

Dr. Kelley Nichols, Vice President of Teacher Excellence at Porter-Leath

The Issue

In 2019, nearly one in every seven U.S. children was living in poverty. This trend isn’t new--for years, children have remained the poorest age group in America. Without intervention, it’s hard to break the cycle of generational poverty that so many are born into. 

One possible answer to the formidable challenge of generational poverty lies in education. Families with access to high-quality, outcome-driven education are often able to find a pathway out of generational poverty, providing hope for the future. With the right combination of resources, the future life outlook for a child in poverty could change as early as preschool. 

High-quality early childhood education in particular is vital to teaching children how to be lifelong learners and setting them on a path for future educational and career success. Early childhood education has been linked to higher high school graduation rates, employment, and earnings. Yet, the children who stand to benefit the most from high-quality early childhood education typically have the least access to it. 

On top of that, early childhood education programs receive relatively little funding, leading to low wages for early childhood educators and a relatively undertrained teacher workforce. When children from low-income backgrounds are able to attend preschool, the lack of educator training leaves a lot of the potential of a high-quality education on the table.

One possible way to improve access to quality education programs is to provide more training and resources to existing programs for low-income communities. Training programs can help the devoted teachers on the front lines of education provide higher quality education to all of their students, especially the one in seven living in poverty.

The Intervention

In Shelby County, Tennessee--where 35% of children under the age of five live in poverty--Porter Leath knows how urgent the fight against generational poverty is. They also believe in the valuable role that education can play. Porter Leath offers a variety of programs aimed at lifting families experiencing poverty into brighter futures, including a teacher coaching initiative called the Teacher Excellence Program (TEP). The idea behind TEP is that, with intensive coaching from Porter Leath, educators serving children experiencing poverty will be even better equipped to create a classroom environment where every student has their best chance to learn.  

TEP focuses on coaching teachers through observation and individual feedback that offers guidance, suggestions, and strategies for boosting the effectiveness of their teaching. The training is driven by the teachers themselves as they set their own goals, but it also includes support from outside education specialists and instructional advisors. Teachers in TEP also have access to workshops and other in-classroom support to aid in the implementation of new learning practices. Relief teachers, who are dependable and trained educators, cover the classrooms of teachers who are attending training sessions, ensuring a seamless operation in the classroom.

By offering this support to early childhood educators, Porter Leath aims to help them be better prepared to step into their role on the frontlines of fighting generational poverty. The intensive training helps to professionalize early childhood education and form quality educators. On top of that, the individualized attention and personal development can mean that teachers are also leaving the program happier and more fulfilled.

At the end of the day, Porter Leath’s work all leads back to the students. The ultimate goal of supporting educators with the Teacher Excellence Program is to improve student outcomes. Early investment in children’s education at the preschool level can ensure they are prepared for kindergarten and beyond, reducing the achievement gap across income levels.

Research Question

What is the effect of intensive early childhood teacher coaching on children’s developmental outcomes and teacher job satisfaction and turnover?

Intended Outcomes

  • Students in the classrooms of teachers who receive TEP coaching will have improved developmental outcomes and kindergarten readiness.
  • Students’ achievements will decrease the gap in learning outcomes between high- and low-income students.
  • Teachers who receive TEP coaching will have higher job satisfaction and lower levels of turnover than teachers who don’t receive TEP coaching.

Research Study Design

LEO’s study of the impact of Porter Leath’s Teacher Excellence Program is a randomized controlled trial. All of the classrooms that engage in other services with Porter Leath are eligible to participate in the Teacher Excellence Program. Because there is not enough capacity in the program for every teacher interested in participating, teachers are accepted into the program using a random lottery. Teachers who are randomly selected to receive TEP services become part of the treatment group and receive access to one-on-one coaching, workshops, and related supports. Those not selected for TEP services become part of the control group, receiving Porter Leath’s standard level of services and remaining eligible for TEP coaching in following years. 

At the conclusion of the study, the LEO research team will examine how a teacher’s involvement in TEP impacts student developmental outcomes and kindergarten readiness as well as teacher job satisfaction and turnover.