At one time, finding an assistant principal for a public school in Denver entailed a search through “a gajillion résumés,” in the words of one local school district administrator. Even then, some ideal candidates likely fell through the cracks. Those days are over, owing to the development by Denver Public Schools of a “leader tracking system,” a database of information about the training, qualifications and performance of principals and aspiring principals.
This Story From the Field examines how Denver and five other school districts have constructed and are using these systems as they seek to better train, hire and support school principals. All six districts are taking part in the Principal Pipeline Initiative, a Wallace Foundation-funded effort to help the school systems develop a large corps of strong school principals and generate lessons for the field.
In addition to aiding district officials in identifying strong principal and assistant principal candidates and matching them to the right schools, the leader tracking systems are helping in efforts to forecast job vacancies, pinpoint principal training topics and spot potential principal mentors. The districts are also beginning to use the systems to share aggregate information about the performance of principals with the preparation programs from which the principals graduated.
The publication makes clear that developing a leader tracking system takes time and effort. It describes, for example, how determining what information to collect, and then finding it, proved to be a key but time-consuming task, not least because essential data could be housed in different niches of the school bureaucracies.
Geographic Focus: North America / United States (Southern) / Florida / Hillsborough County / Tampa;North America / United States (Southern) / North Carolina / Mecklenburg County / Charlotte;North America / United States (Northeastern) / New York / New York County / New York City;North America / United States (Western) / Colorado / Denver County / Denver;North America / United States (Southern) / Georgia / Gwinnett County;North America / United States (Southern) / Maryland / Prince George\'s County
Children and Youth;Education and Literacy;Employment and Labor
During the last decade, education research and policy have generated considerable momentum behind efforts to remake teacher evaluation systems and place an effective teacher in every classroom. But schools are not simply collections of individual teachers; they are also organizations, with structures, practices, and norms that may impede or support good teaching. Could strengthening schools -- as organizations -- lead to better outcomes for teachers and students?
This study begins to address that question by examining how changes in school climate were related to changes in teacher turnover and student achievement in 278 NYC middle schools between 2008 and 2012. Drawing on teacher responses to NYC's annual School Survey, as well as student test scores, human resources data, and school administrative records, we identified four distinct and potentially malleable dimensions of middle schools' organizational environments:
- Leadership and professional development;
- High academic expectations for students;
- Teacher relationships and collaboration; and
- School safety and order.
We then examined how changes in these four dimensions over time were linked to corresponding changes in teacher turnover and student achievement. We found robust relationships between increases in all four dimensions of school climate and decreases in teacher turnover, suggesting that improving the environment in which teachers work could play an important role in reducing turnover. (The annual turnover in NYC middle schools is about 15 percent.)
We also discovered that improvements in two dimensions of school climate -- safety and academic expectations -- predicted small, but meaningful gains in students' performance on standardized math tests.
Taken together with other emerging evidence, these findings suggest that closing achievement gaps and turning around struggling schools will demand a focus on not only individual teacher effectiveness, but also the organizational effectiveness of schools. The policy brief outlines several potential areas of focus for districts that want to help schools in building healthy well-functioning organizations.
Geographic Focus: North America-United States (New York Metropolitan Area)
Two years ago, we embarked on an ambitious effort to identify what works in fostering widespread teacher improvement. Our research spanned three large public school districts and one midsize charter school network. We surveyed more than 10,000 teachers and 500 school leaders and interviewed more than 100 staff members involved in teacher development.
Rather than test specific strategies to see if they produced results, we used multiple measures of performance to identify teachers who improved substantially, then looked for any experiences or attributes they had in common -- from the kind and amount of development activities in which they participated to the qualities of their schools and their mindset about growth -- that might distinguish them from teachers who did not improve. We used a broad definition of "professional development" to include efforts carried out by districts, schools and teachers themselves.
In the three districts we studied, which we believe are representative of large public school systems nationwide, we expected to find concentrations of schools where teachers were improving at every stage of their careers, or evidence that particular supports were especially helpful in boosting teachers' growth. After an exhaustive search, we were disappointed not to find what we hoped we would. Instead, what we found challenged our assumptions.
Geographic Focus: North America-United States
Education and Literacy;Government Reform
Common Core Funders Working Group leaders commissioned a capstone paper to capture insights from participants in various Working Group activities, including national and regional funders and field leaders in state policy, district implementation, professional development and teacher associations. We asked questions about the turning points in Common Core implementation, about funder roles and influence and about what they believed philanthropy should take away from its support efforts to date.
The resulting report, "Funding the Common Core State Standards: What Have We Learned the Last Three Years?" summarizes our findings and offers new food for thought for funders seeking to move forward in their support of both the Common Core State Standards and other ambitious education systems change efforts.
Geographic Focus: North America-United States
In 2010, Teach For America (TFA) launched a major expansion effort, funded in part by a five-year Investing in Innovation (i3) scale-up grant of $50 million from the U.S. Department of Education.
Using a rigorous random assignment design to examine the effectiveness of TFA elementary school teachers in the second year of the i3 scale-up, Mathematica Policy Research found that first- and second-year corps members recruited and trained during the scale-up were as effective as other teachers in the same high-poverty schools in both reading and math. To estimate the effectiveness of TFA teachers relative to the comparison teachers, we compared end-of-year test scores of students assigned to the TFA teachers and those assigned to the comparison teachers. Because students in the study were randomly assigned to teachers, we can attribute systematic differences in achievement at the end of the study school year to the relative effectiveness of TFA and comparison teachers, rather than to the types of students taught by these two different groups of teachers. In addition to the impact analysis described in this report, the evaluation included an implementation analysis that describes key features of TFA's program model and its implementation of the i3 scale-up.
Geographic Focus: North America-United States
Six urban school districts received support from The Wallace Foundation to address the critical challenge of supplying schools with effective principals. The experiences of these districts may point the way to steps other districts might take toward this same goal. Since 2011, the districts have participated in the Principal Pipeline Initiative, which set forth a comprehensive strategy for strengthening school leadership in four interrelated domains of district policy and practice:
- Leader standards to which sites align job descriptions, preparation, selection, evaluation, and support.
- Preservice preparation that includes selective admissions to high-quality programs.
- Selective hiring, and placement based on a match between the candidate and the school.
- On-the-job evaluation and support addressing the capacity to improve teaching and learning, with support focused on needs identified by evaluation.
The initiative also brought the expectation that district policies and practices related to school leaders would build the district's capacity to advance its educational priorities.
The evaluation of the Principal Pipeline Initiative has a dual purpose: to analyze the processes of implementing the required components in the participating districts from 2011 through 2015; and then to assess the results achieved in schools led by principals whose experiences in standards-based preparation, hiring, evaluation, and support have been consistent with the initiative's requirements. This report addresses implementation of all components of the initiative as of 2014, viewing implementation in the context of districts' aims, constraints, and capacity.
Geographic Focus: North America-United States (Western)-Colorado-Denver County-Denver;North America-United States (Southern)-North Carolina-Mecklenburg County-Charlotte;North America-United States (Southern)-Maryland-Prince George;North America-United States (Southern)-Georgia-Gwinnett County;North America-United States (Southern)-Florida-Hillsborough County;North America-United States (Northeastern)-New York-New York County-New York City
Some of the most promising reforms are happening where school leaders are thinking differently about how to get the strongest student outcomes from the limited resources available. But even principals who use their autonomy to aggressively reallocate resources say that persistent district, state, and federal barriers prohibit them from doing more.
What are these barriers? What do they block principals from doing? Is there a way around them?
CRPE researchers probed these questions with principals in three states (NH, CT, MD). These principals cited numerous district, state, and federal barriers standing in the way of school improvement. The barriers, 128 in all, fell into three categories: 1) barriers to instructional innovations, 2) barriers to allocating resources differently, and 3) barriers to improving teacher quality.
Upon investigation, researchers found that principals have far more authority than they think. Only 31% of the barriers cited were "real" -- immovable statutes, policies, or managerial directives that bring the threat of real consequences if broken.
The report recommends educating principals on the authority they already possess, to help them find workarounds to onerous rules. The report also outlines a number of specific state and district policy changes to grant schools the autonomy they need to improve student outcomes.
Geographic Focus: North America-United States (Southern)-Maryland, North America-United States (Northeastern)-New Hampshire, North America-United States (Eastern)-Connecticut
Until recently, teacher quality was largely seen as a constant among education's sea of variables. Policy efforts to increase teacher quality emphasized the field as a whole instead of the individual: for instance, increased regulation, additional credentials, or a profession modeled after medicine and law. Even as research emerged showing how the quality of each classroom teacher was crucial to student achievement, much of the debate in American public education focused on everything except teacher quality. School systems treated one teacher much like any other, as long as they
had the right credentials. Policy, too, treated teachers as if they were interchangeable parts, or "widgets."
The perception of teachers as widgets began to change in the late 1990s and early aughts as new organizations launched and policymakers and philanthropists began to concentrate on teacher effectiveness. Under the Obama administration, the pace of change quickened. Two ideas, bolstered by research, animated the policy community:
1) Teachers are the single most important in-school factor for student learning.
2) Traditional methods of measuring teacher quality have little to no bearing on actual student learning.
Using new data and research, school districts, states, and the federal government sought to change how teachers are trained, hired, staffed in schools, evaluated, and compensated. The result was an unprecedented amount of policy change that has, at once, driven noteworthy progress, revealed new problems to policymakers, and created problems of its own. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of states that require annual evaluations for all teachers increased from 15 to 28. The number of states that require teacher evaluations to include objective measures of student achievement nearly tripled, from 15 to 41; and the number of states that require student growth to be the preponderant criteria increased fivefold, from 4 to 20
This paper takes a look at where the country has been with regards to teacher effectiveness over the last decade, and outlines policy suggestions for the future.
Geographic Focus: North America-United States