Over the course of NCTQ's first decade, I'll admit to having struggled a bit to figure out how to influence the policies and practices of school districts. There are 14,000 school districts, and only one of us.
For a substantial amount of time, we studied specific districts' teacher quality practices, hoping to generate change, one district at a time. The approach we took was to make sure whatever we learned in our studies was made available to local community actors, helping them to become change agents on our behalf. So each time we finished one of these studies, we'd deliver our findings at community meetings with lots of local press in attendance. With a few notable exceptions, the superintendent and even the union heads would show up, anxiously biting their bottom lips as NCTQ inevitably revealed data most districts would prefer not be held up for public consumption.
Though many of these studies generated important reforms, I'm no longer convinced that this was the right way to go. More recently, I'm struck by the enormous challenges school districts face, particularly big districts teaching a lot of kids who live in poverty. Districts rarely make the news for positive reasons. (Even when there is positive news, there always seems to be at least one reporter who, deciding that the district must be playing fast and loose with the numbers, acts like a dog with a bone.)
Enough with the self-criticism. It's time to discuss our fresh approach.
Last week we announced the first eight school districts in the country earning our Great Districts for Great Teachers honors. It's our way of elevating those school districts that have established the policies, programs, and most importantly the culture of recognizing, valuing, rewarding, and supporting their best teachers.
The first-ever Great District winners are (in alphabetical order):
- Boston Public Schools
- Broward County Public Schools (Florida)
- Denver Public Schools
- New York City Department of Education
- Pinellas County Schools (Florida)
- Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Two of our district finalists proved themselves standouts even among this elite group by surpassing our standards. So we created a special category for these Outstanding Great Districts for Great Teachers. They are:
- District of Columbia Public Schools
- Gwinnett County Public Schools (Georgia)
In addition, NCTQ named four honorable mention districts:
- Duval County Public Schools (Florida)
- Indianapolis Public Schools
- Newark Public Schools (New Jersey)
- School District of Osceola County (Florida)
No one, not us nor the districts nor the teachers in them, is saying that these districts are doing everything right by their teachers. But they deserve recognition for being more successful than most. We hope this initiative motivates other districts to covet this designation for themselves, leading them to adopt similar practices and policies supporting their own great teachers. These exemplary "Great Districts" show what is possible and how supporting great teachers can transform a district into a Great District.
So will this strategy prove effective long-term? I'm hopeful. As any teacher would tell you, praise and positive reinforcement can go a long way to promote positive behavior.
You can learn more about the Great Districts for Great Teachers initiative and our criteria at www.greatdistricts.org.