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Effective schools

Education Next is a journal of opinion and research about education policy.

❶Below we describe alternative approaches to isolating the contributions of the current principal.

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In recent years, we have seen a revival of effective schools research, most likely due to widespread national concerns about student reading achievement. Taylor, Pressley, and Pearson summarized findings from five large-scale research studies on effective, high-poverty elementary schools, which were published between and Charles A.

The six recurring themes that emerge from these five studies both support and extend the earlier research on effective schools. Putting the students first to improve student learning. In four of these studies Charles A. Dana Center, ; Designs for Change, ; Lein et al. Also, schools reported a collective sense of responsibility for school improvement.

Teachers, parents, the principal, and other school staff members worked as a team to achieve their goal of substantially improved student learning and achievement. Three of the studies Designs for Change, ; Lein et al. The principal may have worked to redirect people's time and energy, to develop a collective sense of responsibility for school improvement, to secure resources and training, to provide opportunities for collaboration, to create additional time for instruction, and to help the school staff persist in spite of difficulties.

In addition to, or perhaps because of, strong leadership, strong staff collaboration was highlighted in four of the studies Charles A. Teachers planned and taught together, with a focus on how to best meet students' needs. They reported a strong sense of building communication, talking and working across, as well as within, grades, which contributed to better understanding of one another's curricula and expectations.

Focus on professional development and innovation. Four of the studies Charles A. Many of the successful schools in these studies, emphasized a type of sustained professional development in which teachers learned together within a building and collaborated to improve their instruction. Consistent use of student performance data to improve learning.

Teachers also worked together to carefully align instruction to standards and state or district assessments. Strong links to parents. All five studies Charles A. Schools worked to win the confidence of parents and then built effective partnerships with them in order to support student achievement. Parents were treated as valued members of the school community. Schools also reported a positive school climate, good relations with the community, and high levels of parental support. Research on effective school reform and professional development.

In successful schools, which typically operate as strong professional learning communities, teachers systematically study student assessment data, relate the data to their instruction, and work with others to refine their teaching practices Fullan, The knowledge base for effective teaching, especially teaching reading in the elementary grades, is equally as strong.

In a recent NEA research report, Taylor, Pressley, and Pearson summarize this research, noting several distinct historical waves of work. Effective direct instruction included making learning goals clear, asking students questions as part of monitoring their understanding of what was being covered, and providing feedback to students about their academic progress.

Effective classrooms were found to be warm, democratic, and cooperative, with more teacher instruction devoted to weaker students, who were also given more time to complete tasks. A second wave of research on teaching reading, which began with the work of Duffy and Roehler in the s, taught us about the cognitive processes used by outstanding teachers.

More effective teachers engaged in modeling and explanation to teach students strategies for decoding words and understanding texts. Knapp and associates Knapp, found that effective teachers stressed higher-level thinking skills more than lower-level skills. Continuing in this tradition, Taylor et al. These researchers found that effective primary grade teachers did provide a balanced literacy program: They also encouraged students to self-regulate their use of strategies.

Interestingly, the National Reading Panel Report implicated balanced literacy instruction in its conclusion that instructional attention to systematic phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, and comprehension strategies was important to a complete reading program. In short, we have learned different, but complementary, lessons about the teaching practices of excellent elementary literacy teachers from the last four decades of research on effective teaching.

The overall picture is consistent with the earlier process-product research to some extent, especially with regard to engagement, but goes beyond it in ways consistent with Duffy, Roehler, et al.

Excellent elementary literacy teachers balance skills instruction with more holistic teaching Pressley, In the best classrooms, students are engaged much of the time in reading and writing, with the teacher monitoring student progress, encouraging continuous improvement and growth, and providing scaffolded instruction to help students improve their use of various strategies. Amidst pressure for schools to adopt off-the-shelf reform programs as a way of improving student achievement Herman, , it is interesting to note that, by and large, the schools in the studies summarized by Taylor, Pressley, and Pearson did not necessarily view packaged reforms as the key ingredient for improving student achievement Charles A.

Dana Center, ; Designs for Change, ; Taylor et al. The overall objective of this project is to test the efficacy of a school reform framework which was designed to be used by elementary schools, in order to develop local reading programs that would improve students' reading achievement.

The study is guided by two fundamental questions:. In our attempt to answer these questions, we did not, nor do we think that we can or should, use a classic experimental paradigm. We did not, for example, randomly assign programs or even particular programmatic components to schools and teachers; to do so would have violated what we have learned from the last 20 years of research on school change--that school staffs must be involved in creating the programs for which they will be held accountable.

However, it is neither necessary nor desirable to invite each and every school to rediscover the wheel. Therefore, what we did was to offer school staffs a framework for making their own decisions about how they might redesign their reading program.

The framework consists of a set of six components derived from research-based knowledge about how to build an effective reading program. These components include classroom reading instruction, school reading programs, reading interventions, school-home-community relations, school change processes, and professional development.

Each component is made available to a school via an Internet-based multimedia program offering research summaries, readings, video clips of effective practice, and learning activities to guide local action.

Support for implementation of the framework is provided to schools through assessment tools and the data obtained with those tools, an external facilitator, an internal leadership team, schoolwide efforts, and study groups that focus on implementing effective practices.

Three of these schools continued with the project in , and six additional schools joined the project at this time. The 11 project schools were from eight different school districts spread across a rural area in the southeastern U. In all schools, two teachers per grade were randomly selected and invited to participate in the classroom observations, interviews, and completion of instructional logs.

If a teacher declined, children from her classroom remained in the school-level analyses. Because the grade levels within buildings differed, children in 7 schools came from grades K-5, in 3 schools from K-6, and in 1 school from grades K Within the designated classrooms, teachers were asked to divide their classes into thirds high, average, and low in terms of perceived reading ability; children were then randomly selected from each third. In the fall, 9 children were randomly selected as target students: In the spring of , due to resource limitations, 2 high, 2 average, and 2 low children were randomly selected from each classroom for post-testing.

In the spring of as many as possible of the 9 children per class who remained at the school were tested: The children who were randomly selected for participation were assessed in the fall and spring on a number of literacy measures, which varied depending on grade level.

Assessments included a standardized reading comprehension test grades as well as tests considering letter-name knowledge K-1 , rhyme K-1 , phonemic awareness K-1 , word dictation K-1 , concepts of print K-1 , fluency words correct per minute; Deno, , and writing responding to a common prompt See Table 1 for details.

Students identified both lower- and upper-case letters. Rhyming subtest from Emergent Literacy Survey Pikulski, Students were given a word and asked to say another word that rhymed with it.

Nonsense words were acceptable. Total of 8 points. Classroom Segmentation and Blending Test Taylor, Children were given six words to blend e. Then they were given six more words and asked to identify the first, middle, and last sound they heard in each word e. What sound do you hear in the middle of sad? What sound do you hear at the end of sad? Concepts of print subtest from Emergent Literacy Survey Pikulski, Children were asked to identify a letter, word, and sentence, as well as demonstrate knowledge of tracking during reading.

Graded lists from Right Start Project Colt, Students were asked to write 15 dictated words. If they could write at least seven words correctly from the first list, they went on to a second list of 15 words. Administered in a group. Michigan Writing Assessment administered in a group.

Students were asked to write to a prompt e. The same prompt was used in the fall and spring. A scoring rubric was used to score papers from high 4 to low 1. Basic Reading Inventory Johns, Students read graded passages until they reached frustration level. Words correct per minute on passage from Johns In fall, students read for 1 minute from a passage that was one level below grade level.

In spring they read from a passage that was at grade level. Retelling of Johns BRI passage read in winter. Houghton Mifflin Baseline Test narrative only, administered in a group. After reading a three-page story, students answered five short answer questions and five multiple-choice questions. Possible score is 20 0, 1, or 2 points for each short answer question, and 2 points for each multiple choice question correct.

A score of is considered low, average, and high. Only the passage comprehension subtest was administered. Students read short passages and answered multiple-choice questions. In the fall, kindergarten children were individually assessed Pikulski, on letter-name knowledge students were asked to give the names of the upper- and lowercase letters ; concepts of print students responded to 8 items dealing with concepts related to words, letters, sentences, tracking, etc.

In the spring, kindergarten students were individually assessed on letter-name knowledge, concepts of print, and rhyme. They also completed an individually-administered, item phonemic segmentation and blending test, in which they segmented words into phonemes and blended phonemes into words Taylor, , and a group-administered word dictation test in which they wrote 15 pre-primer and 15 primer words Colt, In the fall, children in grade 1 were individually assessed on letter-name knowledge, and phonemic segmentation and blending, and children were assessed in small groups on word dictation.

In the spring all students were individually assessed on reading fluency in which students read aloud for 1 minute to obtain a score for the number of words read correctly in 1 minute; Deno, based on a grade-level passage from the Basic Reading Inventory BRI Johns, In the fall, children in grades were individually assessed on fluency words correct per minute based on their reading of a BRI passage Johns, that was one grade level below their grade placement.

In the spring, all children were assessed on fluency using a passage at grade level Johns, , on reading comprehension Gates , and on writing using the same prompt as was used in the fall.

Each response to the writing prompt was scored by one person from a team of trained scorers according to a rubric. Teachers voted by secret ballot on whether to participate in the school change project.

Staff agreed to meet for a minimum of 1 hour a month as a large group to work on the school change effort, and 1 hour a week, on average, in smaller and more focused study groups.

A school leadership team made up of teachers, the principal, and an external facilitator who was to spend a minimum of 8 hours a week in the building was responsible for guiding the staff through the school change activities. Large-group activities were to include discussion and action on the schoolwide reading program, early reading interventions, and parent partnerships, as well as on issues related to school change and professional development.

Reports were also expected from the study groups. Small-group activities were to include within-grade and across-grade study groups which focused on particular aspects of classroom reading instruction and student work e. Groups were encouraged to review the research on the CIERA School Change website; to download, read, and discuss articles on research-based practices related to their focus area; to view and discuss video clips of effective practice on the site; and to share video clips of their own practice.

Members of study groups also raised issues, solved problems, and developed action plans related to their focus area to make changes in their classroom reading instruction. In addition to these components, schools agreed to several other practices and commitments in this multi-year project: Use of data emanating from the project was also an important component.

At the beginning of Year 1, facilitators received a summary of the Beating the Odds research Taylor et al. Teachers also completed a checklist asking about various topics they felt they should cover during the year on characteristics of effective schools and teachers; these topics were covered on the Internet site. The purpose of both of these activities was to help schools set priorities for study groups and large-group meetings.

At the beginning of the second year, returning schools received a summary of the Beating the Odds research and a personalized school report that focused on their performance on school and classroom variables, as compared to the mean of other schools in the study.

Schools new to the project received a generic version of the school report that included the cross-school means for school and classroom variables.

The report included correlations identifying the school and classroom factors which are related to growth in students' reading and writing ability. Finally, the teachers also completed a questionnaire about their perceptions regarding the presence of various school and classroom characteristics, and their opinions about where their school should focus its reform efforts during the upcoming year. This questionnaire--like its predecessor, the previous year's checklist--was tied to topics covered on the Internet site, and was designed to help schools set priorities for their study groups and overall reform efforts.

Teachers were interviewed in the fall, winter, and spring; principals were interviewed in the fall and spring. The interview data were used primarily to document program features and participant beliefs. Each interview lasted about 30 minutes. Teachers meeting in study groups were asked to complete a common study group meeting form after each session and develop an action plan. The external facilitators were asked to keep brief monthly notes summarizing the activities pertaining to the school change project that had transpired at their school.

They were also asked to write an end-of-year report. The data from the notes, action plans, and end-of-year report were used to document the change process at the school level. On three occasions fall, winter, spring , each teacher who agreed to be in the data collection sample was observed for an hour during reading instruction time, to document their classroom practices in the teaching of reading. All observations were scheduled. The observer took field notes for a 5-minute period, recording a narrative account of what was happening in the classroom, including, where possible and appropriate, what the teacher and children were saying.

At the end of the note-taking period the observer recorded the proportion of children in the classroom who appeared to be on task i. They then coded the three or four most salient literacy events Category 4 codes that occurred during that 5-minute episode.

For every Category 4 event, the observer also coded who was providing the instruction Category 1 , the grouping pattern in use for that event Category 2 , the major literacy activity Category 3 , the materials being used Category 5 , the teacher interaction styles observed Category 6 , and the expected responses of the students Category 7. An example of a 5-minute observational segment is provided in Table 2. See Table 3 for a list of the codes for all the categories.

T is taking running record of child's reading. Others reading familiar books. Next, T coaches boy on sounding out "discovered.

T passes out new book: T has students share what the word "creature" means. Meaning of text, lower m1 for talk m2 for writing. Meaning of text, higher m3 for talk m4 for writing. At the end of the observation, the observer wrote a summary addressing seven key features of the classroom ecology: The observations were used as a source of data for individual teachers.

In February of Year 1 teachers were invited by letter to receive, upon request, copies of their first two classroom observations and an explanation of the codes used in the observations. In Year 2, based on requests from teachers for regular feedback related to their observations, teachers received a copy of each observation, a description of the codes, a brief summary of research related to the major coding categories being analyzed for the project e. External facilitators received training in how to interpret observations so that they, in turn, could help teachers understand the information contained in these observations without making the interpretations for them.

Teachers were encouraged to go to the facilitators with questions. In addition to the observations, in teachers also completed six logs, one each for a high-, average-, and low-ability student, for an entire week in the winter, and once again for the same three students in the spring.

Teachers used the log to record time spent on various literacy activities, types of texts and materials used, and grouping practices. Data from the interviews were used to document the characteristics of various school-level factors at each school site, as well as the extent of the reform effort at that school.

The meeting notes and action plans completed by the study groups, along with the monthly notes and end-of-year report completed by the facilitators, were used to further describe the extent of implementation of the change process at the project schools.

We applied a coding rubric to the interviews in order to evaluate teachers' perceptions of the degree to which the following factors, previously found to be important in effective schools see pp. Each teacher's set of three interviews was used to rate school-level factors collaborative leadership, building collaboration in the teaching of reading, reflection on teaching, collaborative professional development, and links to parents on a 4-point scale, which was designed to capture the strength or degree to which each factor was perceived to be present in that school: This coding rubric is presented in Table 4.

All of the interviews were coded by one member of the research team. The five ratings were summed to generate a school effectiveness score for each school in the study.

The 11 schools from Year 2 and the three schools from Year 1 had a mean school effectiveness score of 8. Although schools had agreed, in principle, to the conditions for the study, they exhibited considerable variability in their degree of adherence to the reform framework. Factors considered important to the reform included the following: Using the comments of each teacher across the three interviews, the study group meeting notes, study group action plans, facilitator logs, and the end-of-year reports, we built a scale indicating the degree to which a school was perceived to be implementing the various components of the school change framework see Table 5.

We then calculated a mean reform effort score for each school. The mean score was 4. One member of the research team rated each school on each of the 10 dimensions of implementing the reform. A second member of the research team also read through the artifacts and rated each school.

The Pearson correlation coefficient across the two scorers' ratings was. Sticking with substantive topics for months or more yes or no. Working on a plan to involve parents as partners yes or no.

Effective use of an external facilitator yes or no. Effective use of an internal leadership team yes or no. One point was awarded for each of the reform components if the criteria in parentheses for a particular component were judged to be met. As the first author of this paper visited research sites, she joined each observer in an observation, in order to establish inter-rater reliability data on the observation coding scheme.

An expert observer who had done many classroom observations using this scheme and helped to refine it read through all of the observations to further assess the degree to which observers were using the codes in a similar manner. For example, although decision rules had been established in order to help an observer distinguish between similar codes, one observer may have coded a teacher's reference to the main idea of a story as a comprehension skill, while another observer might have coded a very similar exchange as a higher-level question about the story.

The expert observer did not code the observations "blind. Since there was variability between the observers and the expert, especially at Levels 4, 6, and 7, a decision was made to use the expert's codes for those instances in which the observer and expert disagreed, in order to ensure maximum consistency across the many observers. The agreement between the first and second expert at each of the levels of coding was very high: Certain aspects of the data from classroom observations i.

The classroom practices which were analyzed included the following see Table 6 for descriptions of the categories:. All of the children in the class except for one or two individuals working with someone else , or a group of more than 10 children.

If there are 10 or less in the room, code this as a small group. Children are working in two or more groups. If there are more than 10 children in a group, call this whole group. If students are decoding multisyllabic words, code as p4. The total number of phonics activities out of the total number of times that reading was coded at Level 3 was calculated.

Students are focusing on use of one or more strategies to figure out words while reading, typically prompted by the teacher. Students are engaged in talk m1 or writing m2 about the meaning of text that is engaging them in lower-level thinking. The writing may be a journal entry about the text, or may be a fill-in-the blank worksheet that focuses on the text's meaning rather than on a comprehension skill or vocabulary words. The total number of "low level text comprehension" activities at Level 4 out of the total number of times reading was coded at Level 3 was calculated.

Students are involved in talk m3 or writing m4 about the meaning of text that is engaging them in higher-level thinking. This is talk or writing about text that is challenging to the children, and which is at either a high level of text interpretation or goes beyond the text: Needless to say, a child must go beyond a yes or no answer e.

The total number of "high level text comprehension" activities at Level 4 out of the total number of times reading as the major focus at Level 3 was coded. Students are engaged in a comprehension activity other than a comprehension strategy which is at a lower level of thinking e. Students are engaged in use of a comprehension strategy that will transfer to other reading and in which this notion of transfer is mentioned e.

If predicting were done, but transfer was not mentioned, this would be coded as "c". Students are coded as reading not reading turn-taking at Level 7. The number of segments in which a narrative textbook tn or narrative trade book n was coded, out of the total number of coded segments.

The number of segments during which an informational textbook ti or information trade book i was coded as being used, out of the total number of segments coded. The teacher is coded as telling or giving children information or engaging them in recitation. The total number of times in which telling or recitation was coded was divided by the total number of responses that were coded at Level 6.

The teacher is coded as coaching, modeling, or watching and giving feedback. Children are engaged in one or more of the following Level 7 responses: The total number of "active responding" codes out of the total number of Level 7 responding codes was calculated.

The total number of "passive responding" codes out of the total number of Level 7 responding codes was calculated. At the end of the 5-minute note-taking segment, the observer took a count of the number of children in the room who appeared to be engaged in the assigned task out of all the children in the room. If a child was quiet but was staring out of the window or rolling a pencil on their desk, this was not counted as being on task.

Descriptive analyses were also conducted to elaborate on the quantitative findings. HLM is a method of completing regression at multiple levels. The analyses in this study employed a two-level HLM model in which students were nested within classrooms or schools.

Schools and classrooms were analyzed separately because there were different numbers of students at the school level than at the classroom level, since students whose teachers had declined to participate in the classroom observations were still included in the assessments for the school-level analysis. The number of schools was also insufficient to obtain stable results from a three-level model, in which students are nested within classrooms and classrooms are nested in schools. HLM essentially estimates a regression within each school or classroom and combines these to see if they point to a common regression across schools or classrooms.

When regressions either the intercepts or slopes vary across schools, then we can examine the school-level or classroom-level characteristics that may explain such variation. This is a common method for evaluating school-level and classroom-level factors and their effects on student outcomes.

A simple regression would be inappropriate in these situations, since it would violate the independence assumption. HLM also partitions variance components across levels, providing an estimate of variance in student performance within and between classrooms or schools. Though these findings contradicted Coleman's conclusion, they Edmonds, Brookover, Lezotte plus other school effectiveness researchers were left without an answer as to why certain schools made a difference and others did not.

To answer this puzzling question, successful schools were compared with similar schools, in like neighborhoods, where children were not learning, or learning at a low level.

Characteristics describing both types of schools were observed and documented. The basic conclusion of this comparative research was is: Public schools can and do make a difference, even those comprised of students from poverty backgrounds.

Children from poverty backgrounds can learn at high levels as a result of public schools. There are unique characteristics and processes common to schools where all children are learning, regardless of family background. The fact that less-effective teachers are more likely to leave schools run by highly effective principals also validates our measure of principal quality. If our measure was just capturing random noise in the data rather than information about true principal quality, we would not expect it to be related to teacher quality and turnover.

Along with teacher turnover, instability of leadership is often cited as an impediment to improving high-poverty and low-performing schools.

Consistent with these concerns, we find that Texas schools with a high proportion of low-income students are more likely to have first-year principals and less likely to have principals who have been at the school at least six years than those serving a less-disadvantaged population.

Sorting schools by initial achievement rather than poverty level produces even larger differences see Figure 1.

The proportion of principals in their first year leading a school is roughly 40 percent higher in schools in the bottom quartile of average prior achievement than in schools in the top quartile; the proportion of principals that have been at their current school at least six years is roughly 50 percent higher in schools with higherachieving students.

Yet the import of leadership turnover also depends on whether highor low-quality personnel are leaving, something prior research has been unable to address. We therefore examine whether the likelihood that a principal leaves following the third year in a school varies with her effectiveness and with the share of low-income students in the school. We observe principals making a variety of career decisions: We divide principals into four equal-sized groups based on estimates of their effectiveness using the first of the three methods described above.

We also limit the data to include only principals with fewer than 25 years of total experience in order to minimize complications introduced by the decision to retire.

Our results confirm that the least-effective principals are least likely to remain in their current position and most likely to leave the public schools entirely. With the exception of the schools with the lowest poverty level, however, there is not a consistent relationship between the likelihood of remaining on as principal and principal quality see Figure 2.

In high-poverty schools, for example, principals in the middle two quartiles of effectiveness are substantially more likely to remain than those in the bottom quarter. The most effective principals are more likely to remain in the same position than those in the bottom quartile, but are considerably more likely to move on than those in the middle of the quality distribution.

Another result emerging from this analysis that is troubling from a policy perspective is the frequency with which low-performing principals move to principal positions at other schools. This trend is particularly striking in high-poverty schools, where more than 12 percent of poor performers annually make such a move.

In contrast, less than 7 percent of the poorest performers in more-affluent schools become principals at other schools. This may reflect the fact that it is challenging in high-poverty schools to separate the effects of school circumstances from the quality of the principal, leading district administrators to give principals from high-poverty schools a chance at a different school.

The simple conclusion, nonetheless, is that the operation of the principal labor market does not appear to screen out the least-effective principals. Instead, they frequently move to different schools, perhaps reflecting the bargain necessary to move out an ineffective leader in a public-sector organization.

Potentially, this is where the superintendent enters the picture. Making good decisions on the retention and assignment of principals may be among the distinguishing characteristics of successful superintendents, a possibility that warrants additional study.

The role of principals in fostering student learning is an important facet of education policy discussions. Strong leadership is viewed as especially important for revitalization of failing schools.

Determining the impact of principals on learning is a particularly difficult analytical problem. Nevertheless, even the most conservative of our three methodological approaches suggests substantial variation in principal effectiveness: There are many channels through which principals influence school quality, although the precise mechanisms likely vary across districts with the regulatory and institutional structures that define principal authority. Because all principals participate in personnel decisions, we have focused on the composition of teacher turnover.

For the best principals, the rate of teacher turnover is highest in grades in which teachers are least effective, supporting the belief that improvement in teacher effectiveness provides an important channel through which principals can raise the quality of education. Finally, patterns of principal transitions indicate that it is the least and most effective who tend to leave schools, suggesting some combination of push and pull factors.

This pattern is particularly pronounced in high-poverty schools. It is also worrisome that a substantial share of the ineffective principals in high-poverty schools takes principal positions in other schools and districts. Clearly, much more needs to be learned about the dynamics of the principal labor market.

For student outcomes, greater emphasis on the selection and retention of high-quality principals would appear to have a very high payoff. Hanushek is senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. Rivkin is professor of economics at University of Illinois at Chicago. User Agreement Privacy Policy.


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OVER 25 YEARS AGO a federal paper was written to discuss the effectiveness of American education. The paper was funded by the U.S. Office of Education and written by James Coleman, a prominent education researcher. Effective Schools Research emerged in response to this controversial paper.

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NINE CHARACTERISTICS OF HIGH-PERFORMING SCHOOLS Nine Characteristics of High-Performing Schools Prepared by G. Sue Shannon, Senior Researcher Pete Bylsma, former Director, Research, Assessment, Accountability research on effective schools is included, as well as about new references and rel-. Effective schools. "Effective Schools" is both an educational movement and body of research which examines school-based factors which positively influence learning outcomes in K schools. Effective schools research has been widely adopted by school districts worldwide.

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CORRELATES OF EFFECTIVE SCHOOLS. THE CORRELATES ARE THE MEANS to achieving high and equitable levels of student learning. It is expected that all children (whether they be male or female, rich or poor, black or white) will learn at least the essential knowledge, concepts and skills needed so that they can be successful at the . Research studies that have focused on identifying the characteristics or correlates of elementary and secondary schools that are unusually effective are reviewed, concentrating on the.