68 Effective Schools Defined

The Importance of Effective Schools and How America Can Make Their Schools More Effective


By: Amy West


Learning Targets

1. Students should know the reasons why effectiveness in education is important.

2. Students should be able to understand the characteristics which make a school effective.

3. Given a list of characteristics, students should be able to identify whether they are effective or ineffective.


People often talk about the importance of education and how schools need to improve. However, that is usually as far as the idea goes. This is because everyone has different definitions for what an effective school is and how to improve ineffective schools. Just because a student goes to school every day, it does not mean the school is doing the best job they can. There is always room for improvement, even in the best of schools.

Essentially, an effective school is one which is conducted in a safe environment by qualified teachers (Ashley, 2006). Everyone in the education field should have goals and high expectations for the school and its students (Ashley, 2006). Students should not only be taught academics, but also life skills (Ashley, 2006). There are many schools which are not at this level of effectiveness, though. Ineffective schools are most commonly found in high poverty areas (NEA, 2001). They typically are not well funded, do not have enough technology, and do not have highly qualified leaders (NEA, 2001).

Improving ineffective schools should be one of America’s top priorities. A good education is the foundation of every qualified professional in this country. There have been many studies done to find out what makes high performing schools effective (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). These studies show that there are six top factors which make a school effective, among other characteristics.

Positive Classroom Environment

The classroom environment is a very important aspect of an effective school. If a student does not feel safe or comfortable while in their classroom, they will not be able to focus on what is being taught.

It is essential that students feel safe while in school (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). Even though 98% of teachers and 93% of students say they feel safe in their school, safety is still a topic of debate (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). Making schools safe begins with teaching students respect, for themselves and others (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). Another key step in safety is to identify student problems early, before the student turns to violence to solve them (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006).


Aside from safety, it is also valuable for students to feel at ease while at school (Ashley, 2006). They should feel able to approach their teacher and other students (Ashley, 2006). The learning environment should also be open, clean, colorful, and inviting (Armstrong, 2002).

Qualified Educational Leaders

Having qualified leaders in the field of education is essential for success. These are the people who are around the children for approximately 35 hours each week. They are the people who will teach, inspire, and guide the students and they need to be qualified to do so.

The school leadership begins with the principal. The principal should be open and honest with teachers and staff (Ashley, 2006). They should make themselves approachable so teachers feel comfortable approaching them with new ideas (Ashley, 2006). Principals should allow their teachers to be creative and innovative in the classroom (Ashley, 2006).


The other aspect of school leadership is the teachers. Schools should require that all of their teachers are highly qualified and fully certified (NEA, 2001). There also needs to be incentives for teachers who meet these requirements and do their job well (Lockheed, Levin, 1993). Incentives could include mentoring programs to help teachers adjust and loan forgiveness for those who teach in low performing schools (NEA, 2001).

Setting Goals

Setting goals for schools and students is an important process. It helps to motivate people when there is something specific to aim for. It is also a good way to show the clear path to success.

The principal should work with the teachers to develop a plan and mission for the school (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). Once they have done this, they should share it with the students (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). Goals should include specific strategies and techniques for improvement and progress (NEA, 2001). Also, everyone should be pushed to work hard in order to achieve the goals and be successful and effective (Ashley, 2006).

High Expectations for Students

It is a known fact that people often live up to what is expected of them. If you do not expect much from a person, they often will not give you much. This is why it is crucial for teachers to expect their students to do well so there is a standard for students to uphold.


Each student should be expected to do their best on each assignment, despite previous performance or social background (Ashley, 2006). There is no reason that any student should be held to a lower standard than any other student (Ashley, 2006). When a teacher holds low expectations for a student, they tend to treat them differently (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). They may even give those students less praise and less communication (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). Once teachers have made their expectations clear to the students, they need to develop objectives that the students can excel in (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006).

Conducting and Implementing Research and Funding

It is necessary for schools to conduct research for many reasons. They need to use their research findings in order to find out what works in schools and what does not. Then, schools need to receive funding in order to implement plans that support the research findings.

Research should be conducted in many different ways in order to reach each student (Lockheed, Levin, 1993). Everyone in the field of education should pay close attention to the findings in order to figure out where next to go with the school curriculum (Lockheed, Levin, 1993). If the research shows that something is not working, the subject or technique should be discarded and a new plan should be implemented (Lockheed, Levin, 1993).

One of the biggest problems when it comes to funding in education is the difference of funds spent on students in high poverty areas compared to those in better financed schools (NEA, 2001). Low performing schools need the funding the most due to all of the resources they are already lacking (NEA, 2001). However, all schools need more funding in order to provide everything necessary for each student to get the best education possible (NEA, 2001).

Monitoring Student Progress

One of the best ways to see if the school curriculum is effective is by monitoring student progress. If a large majority of students are not progressing, it probably means that there needs to be massive curriculum changes. On the other hand, if only a few students are struggling, it most likely is a sign that they need extra help.


The best plan to have when monitoring progress is to take a well rounded approach since one test is not a good measure for everyone (NEA, 2001). Progress reports should be made so students can know their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as where they are now and future goals (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). Students should be assessed in comparison to national averages as well as to see if they know the material (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). There have also been studies done which show that doing homework is a good way to monitor progress and raise student achievement scores (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006).

Other Factors

Early Start

Typically, when a child starts attending school is based on their age. However, a child’s age does not have much to do with their ability to learn. Some children may be ready to start learning earlier than the minimum required age. Educational studies have shown that children who attend early start schools receive better grades and have higher IQs as adults (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006).

Extended Learning

It is common sense that more time spent in school means more time spent learning. This exra learning time could help students who are struggling to catch up with their classmates (NEA, 2001). Other methods to extend learning include longer school years, more testing, more graded homework assignments, and more after school programs (NEA, 2001).

Better Behavior

One of the biggest complaints from well behaved students is that their teachers spend too much time disciplining students with behavioral issues (Ashley, 2006). When teachers have to stop their lesson in order to discipline a student, it causes a huge disruption for the rest of the class. Teachers need to be taught how to handle all of these minor interruptions, as well as major disciplinary issues, so that valuable learning time is not lost (Ashley, 2006).

Smaller Classes and Schools

Whenever a student is in the position to receive extra support and attention, they are likely to excel in their schoolwork. Small class size, particularly during elementary school, typically has a positive effect on students because they receive more individual attention (NEA, 2001). Studies have shown that, for older students, being in smaller schools is most beneficial (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006). It has been proven that students who attend small schools are more likely to pass their classes and attend college (Sadker, Zittleman, 2006).


Community Partnerships

The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is true when it comes to a child’s education, as well. A child will only benefit if teachers, parents, policy makers, and any other community figures are involved in their education (Ashley, 2006). It is also beneficial if all of these people involved share their ideas with each other about how to improve education (Ashley, 2006). It is extremely important for parents to have chances to be involved with their child’s education by opportunities such as skill workshops and volunteer programs (NEA, 2001).

Student Driven Curriculum

There have been studies which have shown that when students have a hand in developing the curriculum, they are more invested in it (Armstrong, 2002). This is also a good way to develop assignments in which all learning styles are addressed (Armstrong, 2002). After all, the students are the ones who know how they learn best. Also, students have said that they learn better when assignments are individualized and engaging (Armstrong, 2002).


Using technology at schools and for homework can be a great thing for students. Technology can be an excellent motivational tool for students who are otherwise disinterested (NEA, 2001). Schools can also use technology to keep track of student behavior and to monitor progress (NEA, 2001).

Planning for the Future

It is vital that schools help prepare their students for the future. Students should leave school with the knowledge that lifelong learning is the key to success (Armstrong, 2002). Also, students who leave high school to enter the “real world” should have been taught the skills necessary for surviving it (Armstrong, 2002).


Education is the key to success in this country. It is vital that we do everything we can in order to ensure that each student gets the best education available. This is important because these students are going to be entering professional fields and, possibly, even teaching the next generation.

Simply attending school does not guarantee a good education. There are many factors which must be used together in order to build the best education possible. It is necessary for schools to have positive, open environments with highly qualified leaders. It is also crucial for schools to research progress in order to see what is or is not working so they are able to build a balanced curriculum.

A school does not just need to offer an education, they need to offer each student the best education they possibly can. By implementing as many of these factors as they can, a school can give each student a well rounded, successful, and effective education.


1. In what areas are ineffective schools most common?

A) affluent areas in America

B) other countries

C) middle class suburbs

D) high poverty areas

2. What percentage of students say they feel safe in their school?

A) 55%

B) 93%

C) 25%

D) 72%

3. A school is described as having minimally qualified teachers, an unsafe environment, and not enough funding. What type of education would this school provide?

A) ineffective

B) excellent

C) effective

D) well rounded

4. A school wants to become more effective. Which of the following is something they should do to accomplish this?

A) spend most of the funding on athletics to bring in more money and attention

B) have the principal develop the curriculum by himself as he sees fit

C) develop incentives to attract highly qualified teachers

D) increase class sizes to increase learning


1. D

2. B

3. A

4. C


Armstrong, Sara (February 2004). What makes a good school: Students speak up at leadership forum. Edutopia, Retrieved September 10, 2008, from http://www.edutopia.org/what-makes-good-school-students-speak-leadership-forum

Ashley, D (June 2006). Creating an effective school. Curriculum Management Update, Retrieved September 10, 2008, from http://www.teachingexpertise.com/articles/creating-an-effective-school-1034

Lockheed, Levin (1993). What do we know about school effectiveness and school improvement. World Bank, Retrieved September 10, 2008, from http://www1.worldbank.org/education/est/resources/topic%20papers/Types%20of%20policy.doc

NEA (February 2001). America’s top education priority: Lifting up low performing schools. National Education Association, Retrieved September 10, 2008, from http://www.nea.org/priorityschools/priority.html

Sadker, D, & Zittleman, K (2006). What makes a school effective?. McGraw Hill, Retrieved September 10, 2008, from http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_What_Makes_School/#


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