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Building and Sustaining Talent: Creating Conditions in High-Poverty Schools That Support Effective Teaching and Learning

Abstract

"Improving teaching effectiveness is a hot topic for policymakers around the country these days. The gathering movement marks an important step forward in the ongoing effort to strengthen our nation's schools. In many cases, however, these efforts start and stop with improving outdated, inadequate teacher evaluation systems. Such approaches fail to address a key problem: that our most vulnerable students are consistently and disproportionately saddled with the weakest teachers and seldom have access to the strong instruction they need and deserve.

To correct this systemic flaw, districts and states must address policy and culture issues that lead to higher rates of teacher dissatisfaction and turnover in schools serving large populations of low-income students and students of color. Teachers do not work in a vacuum. Like most other professionals, their feelings about their jobs and their decisions about where to teach are significantly impacted by their work environments. Despite widespread assumptions that students are the primary cause of teacher dissatisfaction and attrition, research shows that the work environment in schools - particularly the quality of school leadership and staff cohesion - actually matters more, especially among teachers working in high-poverty schools.

Around the country, too many states and districts are giving short shrift to the teaching and learning environments in schools serving students with the greatest need. But a few places are taking this work seriously. In this report, the Education Trust highlights five districts that recognize the importance of teaching and learning conditions: Ascension Parish Public Schools in Louisiana, Boston Public Schools in Massachusetts, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, and Fresno Unified and Sacramento City Unified in California. These districts view building and sustaining strong teaching and learning conditions as a key strategy for attracting, developing and retaining strong teachers in high-need schools. While each district's approach is different, some consistent themes emerge: a focus on strong leadership, a campus-wide commitment to improving instruction by analyzing student data and reflecting on practice, and a collaborative environment that values and rewards individual contribution.

Done right, improved evaluation systems in coordination with positive conditions for teaching and learning could achieve equitable access to effective teachers for all students. With information on how effective teachers are at growing student learning, districts can be more deliberate and strategic about creating conditions that attract, grow, and keep strong teachers in the schools that need them most: schools serving large concentrations of low-income students and students of color. But this change will not occur on its own. States and districts must be intentional about removing policy barriers and creating conditions that ensure our neediest students have access to great teachers."

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