The Education Trust-West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college.

Improving Teacher and Leader Effectiveness

Improving Teacher and Leader Effectiveness

Effective teachers have an enormous impact on the lives of their students. Great teachers can help students who are behind academically catch up to grade-level expectations. By accelerating student performance, they can help close the opportunity and achievement gaps that cut short the college and career dreams of so many low-income students and students of color.

But sadly, research, including our own, demonstrates that low-income students and students of color are disproportionately taught by the least effective teachers. Meanwhile, despite the best intentions of many district leaders and educators, a host of state and district policies and decisions exacerbate existing inequities.

There are opportunities to do things differently. We recommend a number of state policy changes that can expand access to effective teaching and help all teachers improve.

State leaders should take the following steps:


Invest in evaluation systems that can help identify both effective and ineffective teachers, and use these evaluations as part of a broader system of teacher feedback, development, and support. These evaluations should be conducted annually by trained evaluators and should include multiple measures, with student achievement playing a prominent role. The evaluations should result in multiple rating categories (such as highly effective, effective, satisfactory, and ineffective), and districts should use these results when making decisions about tenure, compensation, professional development, promotion, assignment, layoff, and dismissal. As districts build their teacher evaluation systems, they also should develop and implement a system for evaluating principals. Principal evaluations should be based primarily on student outcomes, while also considering how the principal has shown leadership to drive better results at the school site.


Current federal laws require that adequately prepared and certified teachers are equitably distributed among schools. In keeping with this law, California should continue to ensure that its highest need students have access to “Highly Qualified Teachers” who are appropriately prepared for the job. At the same time, it should develop teacher-quality measures that go beyond preparation and look at effectiveness on the job, with a focus on student achievement. With these measures, the state should set annual targets for equitable teacher assignment within and across districts and hold districts accountable for meeting these targets.


Too often, ineffective teachers are allowed to linger in California’s classrooms because of our state’s lengthy, expensive, and cumbersome dismissal process. When teachers are identified as low performing, they should enter into a comprehensive remediation plan to improve instruction and performance. Teachers receiving an overall unsatisfactory rating should have one year to significantly improve their performance, with remediation provided, or return to probationary status.


California is just one of 11 states that require school districts to use seniority as a primary criterion when making decisions on teacher layoffs. It is time for California to repeal this outdated, bureaucratic, and harmful state mandate, replacing it with a broader law that ensures use of more relevant factors, including employee performance, when deciding on reductions in force.


To provide district leaders with better information on trends in teacher effectiveness and data on how individual teachers contribute to student learning, the state should build its capacity to link teachers to the students they educate. Specifically, the state should continue to develop its longitudinal and student data systems so as to identify “teachers of record.” By having data on such factors as how teachers are contributing to student achievement, where they are teaching, where they received their teacher preparation, and how they are progressing on the job, the state can better evaluate and support teacher preparation programs, identify promising practices in teacher professional development, and monitor the equitable distribution of effective educators.

Click here for The Education Trust-West's detailed policy recommendations regarding teacher evaluation.


Publications on Effective Teachers

Learning Denied: The Case for Equitable Access to Effective Teaching in California’s Largest School District

The Education Trust—West releases the findings of a two- year-long study of data from the second largest school district in the nation, revealing profound inequities in access to effective teaching.  In Learning Denied: The Case for Equitable Access to Effective Teaching in California’s Largest School District, The Education Trust—West finds that low-income students and students of color in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are less likely to be taught by the district’s top teachers – the very teachers capable of closing the district’s achievement gaps. These inequities are exacerbated by teacher mobility patterns and quality-blind layoffs.

Publication date: 
January 12 2012

Teaching Counts: Recommendations for Reforming California's Teacher Evaluation System

Parents know what researchers confirm: The single most important school-based factor affecting student academic performance is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.

Teachers matter because when they have high expectations of their students, their students rise to meet them. Teachers count because they not only play an important role in raising student achievement, but they also have the potential to close long-standing achievement gaps that persist between low-income students and students of color and their more advantaged peers. Teachers matter to all students, but great teaching makes the most difference for our highest need students, who are least likely to have academic supports outside of school. 

Publication date: 
January 2 2012

Improving Teacher Evaluation in California

Most teachers say they teach because they love their students, and because they love helping them to learn. And it shows. Research shows that the single most important school-based factor in improving student academic performance is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Students who have strong teachers year after year soar academically. 

Unfortunately, too many teachers—from those who are the best in the state to those who are growing professionally— receive limited feedback, whether it is praise for a job well done or constructive feedback to help them grow in their craft. 

Publication date: 
November 17 2011

More than Just Seniority: Tools to Help You Fight for the Rights of Students and Communities

By now, you are probably well aware that nearly 20,000 California teachers received a layoff notice telling them that they may be out of a job in the fall. State law requires districts to issue teacher layoffs based on seniority—how long they’ve been teaching.  This means that newer teachers are more likely to be laid off first regardless of how effective they are in the classroom or the needs of their school and community.

Will LAUSD layoffs be a model?

New Ed Trust—West Report Shows the Damaging Impact of Teacher Layoff Policies on California’s Highest Need Schools and Students

(OAKLAND, CA)  With school districts across California announcing budget cuts and plans for massive teacher layoffs, a new report by The Education Trust—West titled, Victims of the Churn: The Damaging Impact of California’s Teacher Layoff Policies on Schools, Students and Communities in Three Large School Districts, shows the negative impact of California’s teacher layoff policies on students in high-poverty schools in three urban school districts.  These students were found to bear more than their fair share of the pain when it comes to teacher layoffs, with their schools 65 percent more likely to have a teacher laid off than a low-poverty school.  Some high-poverty schools lost more than 15 percent of their teachers.  (As seen on NBC San Diego)

Victims of the Churn: The Damaging Impact of California’s Teacher Layoff Policies on Schools, Students and Communities in Three Large School Districts

California’s students, particularly its poorest students, need great teachers. Unfortunately, California’s seniority-based teacher layoff system puts adult privileges over student needs. Newer teachers are laid off first, regardless of how well they do their jobs. This system is especially damaging to schools serving the highest numbers of low-income students, which are more likely than others to experience layoffs and mass personnel shuffling. Their students become victims of the churn.

Publication date: 
February 23 2011

Effectiveness, Not Seniority: Keeping the Best Teachers in High-Need Schools

California has a critical problem: Too many low-income and minority students are stuck in low-performing schools where they are denied equal access to the educational opportunities they need to succeed in college and a career.

Publication date: 
June 3 2010

Statement by The Education Trust—West on Teacher and Staff Layoffs

(Oakland, CA) – Today, the California Department of Education (CDE) announced that 22,000 teachers and staff in public schools will receive layoff notices.  The pending $2.4 billion cut to California’s public schools comes on top of two years of massive budget cuts that have resulted in tens of thousands of teachers and other staff losing their jobs.