Frequently asked questions

About Great Districts for Great Teachers

What is the purpose of the Great Districts initiative?

School districts across the country are doing great work by adopting policies and practices that help to ensure that more children have access to effective teachers. The Great Districts for Great Teachers initiative seeks to identify and celebrate these districts, spotlighting their best practices to guide other districts.

How does the Great Districts selection work?

First, many great teachers helped us to identify the features of their work environment which matter most to them that their districts can impact. Next, we used existing research and expertise to figure out how to measure the presence of those features in a district. After a rigorous, year-long evaluation involving three rounds of successively detailed analysis, we identified the winners. Our researchers carefully evaluated data from teachers' contracts and board policies, examined materials submitted by the district, and in the final stage we surveyed and interviewed teachers working in the district. Every district that met our bar for excellence was selected as a winner; we did not limit the number of winners. Click here for an infographic that describes process and visit the methodology page to learn more.

Why is it an initiative focused on great teachers?

Great Districts focuses on the policies that support our most talented teachers because these exemplars make such tremendous contributions not just to student achievement, but to the culture of the schools where they work: mentoring others, helping to develop lesson plans, and serving as an important teacher voice. 

What are the NCTQ criteria to determine what makes a district great?

Our analysis focused on five broad categories that research suggests supports the recruitment, retention, and satisfaction of great teachers: a professional compensation structure, suitable professional support, effective management and operations, leadership and career opportunities, and support for students. For more information, visit the criteria page.

How were these criteria developed?

We conducted focus groups and surveys of great teachers to learn what matters most to great teachers. We looked at relevant research on attracting, retaining, and supporting quality teachers as well as relevant reports and surveys conducted by other organizations, including the nation's two largest teachers unions. We made sure that any criteria we considered didn't advantage some districts over others depending on factors outside their control, such as free lunch rate.

Criteria also had to be something that is driven by district-level policy. The best example of this: many teachers will say what is most important to them is to have a great building leader. Our criteria don't directly measure the quality of the building leaders. Instead NCTQ looked at the district's policies governing principals to determine if a district has a policy framework that is likely to ensure buildings have great principals.

Finally we organized our content into five key focus areas. Visit the criteria page to learn more about the research behind Great Districts for Great Teachers.

How did you measure district performance?

We looked at over 100 specific data points, from starting salary to planning time. Some criteria are weighted more heavily than others. For more information, visit our methodology page.

Who has supported this work?

A diverse group of former district superintendents has worked with us throughout this process to ensure that Great Districts reflected the perspective of education leaders who have led districts. Bernadeia Johnson (Minneapolis), James Williams (Buffalo), and Peter Gorman (Charlotte-Mecklenburg) served as our Superintendent Advisors. In addition, others have endorsed the Great Districts initiative, including Arne Duncan (U.S. Secretary of Education, Chicago), John Deasy (Los Angeles), and Joel Klein (New York City). See their statements of support here.

Who funded this work?

Several major education foundations have sponsored this project. These funders include: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Heinz Endowments, and the Walton Family Foundation. Funders did not determine the winners nor the criteria for evaluating the districts.


How were districts selected to participate?

We began with a sample of 123 districts for our initial policy analysis to determine qualifying districts. The districts were the 100 largest in the nation together with the largest districts located in the remaining states, and at least one district from each of the 25 largest metro areas. For the first round of analysis, we reviewed the policies of each district in this sample, and then invited the highest performing districts to participate by submitting additional data on their district. Two thirds chose to do so.

What if my district was not selected to participate?

If your district was not large enough to be included in our original sample or did not make it through the initial screening, district officials can still see how your district stacks up against our criteria by using our online assessment. This gives users a rough idea of their districts' strengths and weaknesses relative to our criteria. If you work in school district leadership and are interested in being considered in future rounds of the Great Districts for Great Teachers initiative, please contact us.

Will you announce more Great Districts for Great Teachers in the future?

We plan to announce the timing of subsequent rounds of Great Districts for Great Teachers soon. In the meantime, if you work for a district and would be interested in participating, please contact our team.

For teachers and future teachers

How can I get my district to adopt Great District policies?

Share the Great Districts website with your administrators and encourage your district to use our online assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses. Tag your district on social media using #GreatDistricts. Get involved in your district's decision making processes by attending school board meetings or joining policy committees.

I work in a winning district, but I don't think it is so great. What gives?

We certainly understand that opinions vary and teachers within the same school, let alone the same district, can have differing views and experiences. Moreover, we realize that these districts are not perfect, but the Great Districts for Great Teachers award acknowledges their efforts to create conditions under which great teachers can be rewarded and recognized for their hard work to make a difference in the lives of children.

This award does not imply that every teacher in every one of the winning districts has a positive experience to report, but it does mean that relative to other districts, teachers in these districts are more likely to report a positive experience. Our process included multiple ways of listening to teacher voices through surveys and focus groups. Please visit our criteria page to better understand what we looked for throughout the process. 

What should I look for when considering which school district to work in?

Carefully consider what districts do to support teachers professionally through evaluation and development opportunities, how the district compensates teachers, and the potential for growth through career and leadership opportunities. Review our criteria to learn more about what makes a district a great place for great teachers.

For state policymakers

How does state policy support great teachers in great districts?

State-level policies on teachers and teaching set the foundation on which district leaders build schools and educational communities that attract great teachers and allow them to thrive in their classrooms.

The winners of NCTQ's Great Districts for Great Teachers initiative provide evidence of how states can successfully help their districts become great. Policymakers in these states have established laws and rules that create conditions that empower districts to identify, reward, and retain great teachers.

NCTQ has always believed that policymakers play a major role in overseeing teacher training and certification, defining the standards and assessments that drive teacher instruction, and establishing the rights and responsibilities of teachers, administrators, and district leaders. This is why we've spent the last 10 years documenting state teacher policies and pushing for reform.

As a result, we aren't surprised that many of these Great Districts and honorable mentions are located in states that have laid a solid groundwork for teacher quality policy.

How do states encourage districts to reward great teachers?

  • While still allowing local districts to develop their own salary schedules, Florida ensures that districts reserve their highest pay for their most effective teachers. The state requires districts to ensure they provide their highly effective teachers with a salary increase greater than any other annual salary adjustment otherwise available to them. Teachers with effective ratings are also required to receive increases in base pay, while those with with lower performance ratings are not eligible for such an increase. Also, the state only authorizes districts to pay more for teachers holding advanced degrees when the "degree is held in the individual's area of certification and is only a salary supplement."

  • Florida also provides salary supplements for teachers in high-need schools and/or shortage subject areas.

  • New York supports differential pay, allowing districts to pay teachers more for teaching certain subjects or working in a high-need school. Teachers who serve in a "teacher-shortage area" are eligible for an annual award of $3,400, renewable for three additional years. The state defines teacher-shortage areas as a public school or subject field that experienced a shortage of certified teachers in the previous school year.

How do states encourage districts to make staffing decisions based on performance?

  • While most states say that districts can dismiss poorly performing teachers, Florida makes it easier for districts to do so. For instance, the state limits districts to contracting with new teachers for a single year at a time and makes contract renewals contingent on the teacher earning effective evaluation ratings. The state also streamlines the dismissal for low-performing teachers by distinguishing their due process rights from those facing other charges such as a felony and/or morality violations.

  • When budget constraints force personnel cuts, Florida prioritizes teacher performance over other factors, like seniority, by requiring districts to dismiss employees with the lowest scores on performance evaluations first. Its rules mandate that districts "may not prioritize retention of employees based upon seniority."

  • Although Massachusetts districts consider teacher tenure when deciding layoffs during a reduction in force, the state requires districts to weigh teachers' performance when deciding on layoffs among teachers with similar tenure status.

  • Pennsylvania makes teacher ineffectiveness grounds for dismissal if a teacher receives ratings of unsatisfactory in two consecutive teacher evaluations.

  • Colorado specifically identifies classroom ineffectiveness as valid grounds for dismissal. Teachers who earn ratings of ineffective in their evaluations for two consecutive years revert to probationary status, losing their tenure rights.  

How do states encourage districts to adopt transparent and fair teacher evaluations systems based on quality evidence?

Evaluation framework

  • Florida requires that at least one-third of a teacher evaluation score be based on measures of student learning, another third be based on measures of instruction practice, and the final third be measures determined by the district. The latter can include measures such as peer reviews and reliable survey information from students and parents.

  • Georgia requires that student growth comprise 30 percent of the overall teacher evaluation. The state also requires classroom observations supplemented by other measures aligned with student achievement, such as student perception data and documentation of practice.

  • Pennsylvania requires that student performance count for 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation final score. Evaluators must include multiple measures of student achievement, with 15 percent of the score determined by building-level data (such as schoolwide student performance and graduation rates), 15 percent from teacher-specific data (such as that teacher's students' performance on assessments), and 20 percent from other measures chosen by the district.

  • Colorado requires districts to count multiple measures of student academic growth as half of the overall performance evaluation rating.

Evaluation feedback and frequency
  • All teachers in D.C., Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Georgia must be evaluated at least annually.

  • Florida and Pennsylvania require districts to formally evaluate their nonprobationary/tenured teachers at least once a year and evaluate newly hired teachers at least twice in their first year of teaching.

  • Massachusetts requires districts to observe new teachers early in the year, which ensures teachers receive feedback during a critical time of their development.

Evaluator/observer training
  • Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts require that districts ensure their evaluators undergo training before evaluating teachers.

How do states encourage districts to support new teachers?

  • Colorado requires all new teachers to participate in a three-year induction program, which includes mentoring during the first year. The state also provides guidelines for which teachers should serve as mentors, encouraging districts to closely match mentors and teachers in terms of teaching subject and styles. The purpose of these induction programs should be to provide both mentors and new teachers with opportunities for professional growth and development. The state also requires each induction program to conduct a self-evaluation every five years.

How do states require districts to provide teachers with feedback and coaching to help them improve their performance?

  • Florida requires districts to provide teachers with written copies of their evaluation feedback within 10 days of their evaluation. The state also requires that evaluators discuss their feedback with the teacher in person. Additionally, the state requires districts to consider teacher evaluations when identifying professional development for teachers, and provide more intensive professional development to those who are rated unsatisfactory.

  • Georgia requires that all teachers meet with their evaluators to discuss the final evaluation so teachers can learn from specific feedback on the evaluation results. The state also requires evaluators to "utilize evaluation results to provide high-quality, job-embedded, and ongoing...professional development for teachers as identified in his or her evaluation." Additionally, districts must develop professional learning plans for teachers who are rated "needs development" or "ineffective."

  • Colorado requires that districts provide teachers with copies of their evaluations at least two weeks before the end of the school year. Not only does the state require written evaluations, but it also says the teacher and the evaluator must meet to discuss them. All evaluations, regardless of rating, must include specific areas of improvement and recommendations for how to address any deficiencies in performance. Colorado requires districts to link professional development activities to a teacher's evaluation and performance standards, and develop remediation plans for teachers who are rated less than effective.

  • Massachusetts requires that districts provide all teachers with "Educator Plans" as part of the evaluation process. Educator Plans provide educators with feedback for improvement, professional growth, and leadership; and to ensure educator effectiveness." The Educator Plans must show evidence of the teacher's impact on students' learning and include goals developed with the teacher. In addition, Massachusetts requires that its districts provide: targeted support to all teachers identified as struggling, improvement plans for all teachers rated unsatisfactory, and directed growth plans for those rated as needing improvement. These plans must outline specific actions, including both professional development and other supports, which will be provided by the school or district to support these teachers

About NCTQ

What is the National Council on Teacher Quality and what type of work do you do?

The National Council on Teacher Quality is a nonpartisan research and policy group committed to modernizing the teaching profession based on the belief that all children deserve effective teachers. We recognize that it is not teachers who bear responsibility for their profession's many challenges, but the institutions with the greatest authority and influence over teachers. To that end we work to achieve fundamental changes in the policy and practices of teacher preparation programs, school districts, state governments, and teachers unions.
Our flagship projects include:

  • Teacher Prep Review, an analysis of the quality of more than 2,400 teacher preparation programs across the country
  • State Teacher Policy Yearbook, a comprehensive catalog of state policies governing teacher policies in all 50 states and D.C.
  • NCTQ Teacher Contract Database, a database of compensation schedules, school calendars, teacher contracts, state laws, and school board policies relating to teachers for more than 150 school districts

Why is NCTQ the right organization to sponsor this initiative?

NCTQ has the ideal background to develop this award. Since 2000 we've analyzed district policies on teachers and have maintained a database of district policies enshrined in teacher contracts since 2007. Our experts have researched and written countless papers and policy briefs on teacher issues, including 13 customized studies of districts. This work has given us a deep picture of the current status of district policies and experience recommending specific, actionable changes to improve teacher quality.

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