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Studies confirm highly effective teachers can make an enormous difference in how well students learn.

Yet not all students have access to high-quality teachers. In fact, research has shown that low-income students and students of color are more likely than their higher income and white counterparts to be taught by an ineffective teacher.

As an early funder of efforts to improve teacher effectiveness policies, Joyce funded research to better understand the impact more effective teachers have on student achievement. The Foundation made teacher quality the primary focus of its Education program, and made significant investments to support policies that prepare, recruit, and retain good teachers in high-need schools.

Ground-breaking Joyce grantees like the Education Trust analyzed teacher quality in three Great Lakes states—Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin—and documented the inequitable distribution of teachers. Another early grantee, The New Teacher Project (TNTP), has developed strategies to meet teacher quality challenges, such as offering hiring support of teachers and identifying systemic barriers to teacher advancement. Several years ago, TNTP analyzed bargaining contracts and hiring systems in Chicago and Milwaukee and identified changes that could better distribute and reward teachers in these school districts.

These early investments in teacher quality continue to take hold as national and state education policy makers have increased their focus on teacher effectiveness policies. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled its $5 billion Race to the Top Fund, an innovative competition that rewards states that adopted significant education reform measures—including teacher effectiveness strategies—while providing successful examples for other states and local school districts to follow.

“States have a huge opportunity and significant monetary incentive to make teacher quality a priority,” said Timothy Daly, president of TNTP. “With this new federal attention, school systems can develop real, meaningful ways to cultivate, keep, and reward the teachers who are helping our students learn and eliminate those who are not.”

Forty states as well as the District of Columbia submitted Race to the Top applications and committed to implementing four key reforms: adopting standards and assessments that better prepare students for college and the workplace; improving data systems to better measure student growth; turning around their lowest-performing schools; and recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals where they are needed most.

While Illinois did not win funding in the first round of the Race to the Top challenge, policy makers collaborated to achieve real improvements at the state level. The overall competition galvanized state leaders to pass significant education reform measures including: overhauling statewide teacher and principal evaluation systems; establishing a state longitudinal education data system; increasing the limit on charter schools; and expanding opportunities for high-quality teacher and principal preparation programs run by nonprofit organizations like Teach for America.

Joyce grantee, Advance Illinois, a statewide, advocacy coalition of civic, community, and business groups working to improve education, helped spearhead Race to the Top-style reforms in Illinois. They have developed a framework of education policy priorities that recommend highly effective teachers in every classroom in the state as well as reforms that strengthen teacher development and evaluation.

“Whether or not Illinois secures Race to the Top funding, we have made solid progress in improving education here in Illinois,” said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois. “We will continue to push for reform until all our students have strong teachers and leaders who can provide our students a world-class education.”

Joyce will continue to explore new avenues in developing teacher effectiveness policies by engaging new audiences in the discussion. Working with a coalition of teachers, students, parents, and community leaders, the Foundation looks to increase the number of voices seeking to improve the quality of teachers and principals.