Parents say they know a good school when they see it. The campus is safe, and the curriculum broad; the classrooms are small, and the teachers enlightened. But what is the recipe for success in the classroom? In New York City, education experts say the answer lies largely in two key factors: school funding habits and the power of good principals.
The best instructors tend to coalesce in certain schools because the state's budget allows administrators to hire whatever teachers they can attract. While run-down schools tend to draw many first-year teachers, schools for the gifted like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Technical, with well-equipped campuses and inquisitive students, can tempt more experienced and talented instructors.
Competition for teachers is stiff, and New York has long struggled to convince quality teachers to join schools that need them most. "Where working conditions are very bad there's little demand for jobs," said Jessica Wolff, a policy analyst with the Campaign for Education Equity.
In addition to great teachers, education experts say a good principal is critical to creating an energetic learning environment. A good principal will nurture a relationship with the local community and encourage teachers. Perhaps most importantly, he'll work hard to solicit private funding. Outside money is often necessary to equip a science lab or even get enough textbooks.
The combination of excellent teachers and top-notch principals can be sensed in the tone of a school campus, say experts.
"I think a good school is one where you walk in the door feel that the place is calm," said Susan Russell, an official with City's Council's Education Committee. "There is sense a scholarly-ness among both the students and teachers. It's a place where everyone is respected for their work."