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Policy Library

Effective Teachers and Leaders

Education researchers endlessly argue the merits of various education policies.

But there is one thing everybody agrees on.

When it comes to what matters most, the apple stops with the teacher.

Teachers drive student success more than any school-based factor (1).

Consider this analogy. A student walks into a classroom at the beginning of a school year holding an empty pitcher. A typical teacher fills it with a quart of knowledge.

That quart represents a year’s worth of learning gains.

Researchers have found that a great teacher can add an additional pint, so those kids get a 50 percent bonus. An ineffective teacher subtracts a pint, so those kids learn only half of what they should.

Therefore, the difference between a great teacher and an ineffective teacher equals an entire year of learning gains in only a year’s time (2).

For students already struggling, the quality of teachers is particularly critical. Falling farther behind far too often means never catching up. For them, teacher assignments amount to classroom roulette.

A recent study by Harvard researchers reports that students who get that great teacher are “more likely to attend college, attend higher-ranked colleges, earn higher salaries…and save more for retirement. They are also less likely to have children as teenagers” (3).

It is critical that we put effective teachers in every classroom. Yet a major study of urban school districts reveals they make no particular effort to recognize and reward their best teachers. And as a result, they lose them.

We need to keep our best teachers on the job.

Links to more resources on policies to identify, retain and reward quality teachers coming soon!


  1. RAND Corporation, “Teachers Matter,” 2012
  2. Hanushek, Economics of Education Review, “The economic value of higher teacher quality”, 2010
  3. Chetty, Friedman, Rockoff, National Bureau of Economic Research, The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood, 2011