Seizing Opportunity at the Top

How the U.S. Can Reach Every Student with an Excellent Teacher

Full Report [pdf] | Policy Brief [pdf] | Presentation [pdf] | Checklist [pdf]

American children deserve the one ingredient we know creates stellar learning results: excellent teachers, consistently.

Excellent teachers produce well over today’s typical year of learning growth. Without them, even with good teachers who produce a full year of progress, children who start behind stay behind, and few students get ahead of their beginnings—the antithesis of the American Dream. In contrast, if our nation consistently provides students with excellent teachers, we could close most of our stubborn achievement gaps in just five years.

Policymakers can lead the way, as we show in these publications. This policy brief is based on a working paper of the full reportSeizing Opportunity at the Top. A brief presentation, prepared for The Joyce Foundation, outlines key findings. A checklist details what policymakers can do to put excellent teachers in front of more students.

The brief explains why every child needs excellent teachers year after year; how schools can put excellent teachers in charge of more children’s learning while offering new roles to other teachers in which they, too, can be excellent; and what changes policymakers must support to make this possible.

The brief gives policymakers three avenues of action:

  • Speedily improving the identification of excellent teachers.
  • Clearing the policy barriers, including inflexible budgets, human resource systems, and operational rules, that keep excellent teachers from reaching more students for more pay and drive those teachers out of instructional roles.
  • Catalyzing the will for schools and districts to put excellent teachers in charge of every student’s learning. We propose bold solutions to create this will—including a new right to excellent teachers and strong financial incentives for excellent teachers to reach more students—and we invite others to add to these ideas. Without will-enhancing actions, other policies and education changes will continue to fall short of their potential.