School leadership key in attracting and keeping good teachers

Good teachers can be hard to find and harder to keep, but some high-poverty schools do it. At a Catalyst Chicago forum on September 15, Harvard University Prof. Susan Moore Johnson explained how. She was joined by Elaine Allensworth of the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, Sarah Slavin of the Chicago New Teacher Center, and Donnell White, a Golden Apple Award winning math teacher. Here are some highlights from the event.

New schools on chopping block

In 2003, Chicago launched an unprecedented experiment in high school reform by opening two tiny schools modeled after a successful yet unconventional program in Rhode Island that scraps regular classes in favor of independent projects and internships. But this brief excursion on the uncharted waters of school autonomy proved too much for the district to stomach.

What makes a good teacher?

Which teacher credentials make a difference in the classroom? It’s a research question with significance for districts who recruit teachers, for the principals who hire them and for a public concerned with teacher quality. Here is a round-up of local and national research on the characteristics that make a difference to student achievement.

Context for conversion

Chicago Public Schools is not the only district that is converting to a new student information system. Districts across the country are dumping outdated systems and adopting software better suited to collecting and analyzing data required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The law requires districts to report data such as race and special education status for individual students.

How the good schools do it


Fifth-graders at Peirce Elementary discuss a novel in their reading groups.

The recipe for successful schools is: Mix one strong leader with parent and community support, a strong teaching staff, a school climate that supports learning and high-quality instruction.
These are the “five essential supports” for learning, noted in decades of research on effective urban schools and outlined once again in a September 2006 report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Catalyst Chicago profiled three schools and found that while each school had a different mix of the five supports, the principal was, indeed, the spark that led to dramatic transformation.

Probation brings a big payoff at McCorkle

When Janet House became principal of McCorkle Elementary, she faced the challenge of jump-starting a school with rock-bottom test scores, uninspired teaching and high mobility. By moving quickly to inspire confidence in her leadership and setting high standards for teachers and instruction, House led the school to raise its test scores by some 30 percentage points. Mobility, which soared to 43 percent in 1998, is now at 27 percent (The district average is 24 percent.)

Teamwork drives up scores at Marsh

When Marsh’s local school council hired Gerald Dugan as principal in 1990, tougher discipline was sorely needed at the South Deering school. Chaos reigned. But “Harsh Marsh”—as the students dubbed it—is a far different place today, with test scores above the city average and a calm atmosphere. The school is now part of a district initiative to reward higher-performing schools by giving them more autonomy.