Education Trust Report Emphasizes Need For Culture, Policy Changes In High-Poverty, Low-Performing Public Schools

A new report released by The Education Trust emphasizes the need for policy and culture changes in the public education sector, and not just updated teacher evaluation systems.

“Making evaluations more meaningful is a critical step toward improving our schools. But being able to determine who our strongest teachers and principals are doesn’t mean that struggling students will magically get more of them,” Sarah Almy, director of teacher quality at The Education Trust and co-author of the report, said in a statement. “We have to be intentional about creating the kinds of supportive working environments in our high-poverty and low-performing schools that will make them more attractive to our strongest teachers.”

According to the report, teachers’ job satisfaction hinges more on the culture of the school -- namely the quality of school leadership and staff cohesion -- than it does on the demographics of the students or teacher salaries. Teachers who view their work environment in a positive light are more likely to evoke positive outcomes in their students.

The researchers profiled five school districts across the country that are making strides to improve the conditions for teachers and learning that influence school culture.

For instance, Ascension Parish School System in southern Louisiana prioritized providing teachers with meaningful and continuous feedback, coupled with support and time during the school day to collaborate and reflect on instructional practice. Once teachers recognized that these performance evaluations were being used to improve practice, rather than as a punitive measure, they reportedly embraced the new culture of shared learning and responsibility.

Meanwhile, Fresno Unified School District in California launched a district-wide initiative to develop school principals into strong instructional leaders by teaching them how to recognize effective teaching practices and provide fellow educators with useful feedback.

California's Sacramento City Unified School District and North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenberg Public Schools asked some of their strongest school leaders to commit at least three years to turning around the lowest performing schools in their districts. In exchange, these educators were granted more autonomy over school-level decisions, flexibility in developing their own course agendas and the opportunity to establish their own leadership teams.

Lastly, Boston Public Schools collaborated with Teach Plus, an organization dedicated to improving urban students’ access to effective teachers, to implement a model that trains teacher-leaders and enables them to promote cooperative instructional improvement within schools.

“The Education Trust’s latest report validates what every teacher knows is necessary to strengthen public schools and the teaching profession,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. “Building a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility among teachers, principals and administrators; focusing on continuous professional development for teachers; and ensuring teachers have the time, tools and trust they need to improve teaching and learning are essential ingredients to building strong public schools and a quality teaching force.”

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