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 process, 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. 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, the Walton Family Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation. Funders did not determine the winners nor the criteria for evaluating the districts.


How were districts selected to participate?

For our original iteration, 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. Since 2017, we have continued to evaluate districts in certain regions (for example, Pennsylvania in 2019) and individual districts that wish to go through the Great Districts process.

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?

While we do not plan to run another national competition, we continue to do evaluations of specific districts and regions. 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.

To learn more about the role of states, please visit our 
State Teacher Policy Database.

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 Database, a comprehensive catalog of state policies governing teacher policies in all 50 states and DC
  • Teacher Contract Database, a database of compensation schedules, school calendars, teacher contracts, state laws, and school board policies relating to teachers for more than 100 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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