In recent years, a number of studies (discussed below; also see here and here) have shown that effective public schools are built on strong collaborative relationships, including those between administrators and teachers. These findings have helped to accelerate a movement toward constructing such partnerships in public schools across the U.S. However, the growing research and expanding innovations aimed at nurturing collaboration have largely been neglected by both mainstream media and the policy community.
Studies that explore the question of what makes successful schools work never find a silver bullet, but they do consistently pinpoint commonalities in how those schools operate. The University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research produced the most compelling research of this type, published in a book called Organizing Schools for Improvement. The consortium gathered demographic and test data, and conducted extensive surveys of stakeholders, in more than 400 Chicago elementary schools from 1990 to 2005. That treasure trove of information enabled the consortium to identify with a high degree of confidence the organizational characteristics and practices associated with schools that produced above-average improvement in student outcomes.
The most crucial finding was that the most effective schools, based on test score improvement over time after controlling for demographic factors, had developed an unusually high degree of "relational trust" among their administrators, teachers, and parents.
Five organizational features contributed to this success:
A coherent instructional guidance system, in which curriculum and assessment were coordinated within and across grades with meaningful teacher involvement;
An effective system to improve professional capacity by providing ongoing support and guidance for teachers, including opening teachers' classroom work for examination by colleagues and external consultants;
Strong ties among school personnel, parents, and community service providers, with an integrated support network for students;
A student-centered learning climate that identified and responded to problems individual students were experiencing;
Leadership focused on cultivating teachers, parents, and community members so that they became invested in sharing responsibility for the school's improvement.
These five features tended to reinforce one another; a significant weakness in any of them could threaten progress. Schools with strong rankings on all five criteria were 10 times more likely to improve than schools that were weak in the majority of the areas.