Sometimes when I have a free minute, I look back at old “Where We Stand” columns written by Albert Shanker. Shanker was president of the New York United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and, later, the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers union.

For 27 years, a weekly advertorial, paid for by UFT and appearing in The New York Times’ Sunday Week in Review section, was written primarily by Shanker.

Those old columns hold a treasure trove of thinking about school issues that people across the political spectrum found provocative and informative. In my perusing, I recently ran across a column he wrote in 1979 about a British study I had never come across, Fifteen Thousand Hours.

Shanker was always interested in high-quality research, and he thought this particular study important because, controlling for children’s backgrounds, the study found that the way schools are organized has an enormous effect on student achievement, behavior, and attendance.

Here’s an excerpt from Shanker’s column:

“What was it that made the difference between successful and unsuccessful schools? What did not make a difference was: whether the school was all boys, girls, or mixed; religiously-affiliated or public; small school or large; had much space or little, old or new buildings. (The differences among the schools in class size were too little to have an effect—and all the London classes were small by New York standards.)

The report focuses on the ethos of the successful schools as being all-important. Such schools emphasized academic concerns, homework and the use of the library. Teachers started lessons promptly, spent little time on anything else, such as distributing materials or being distracted by disruptive behavior. While the successful schools did have problem children, they focused on frequent praise and on giving students responsibilities, rather than on punishment, to deal with the problems. The study notes: ‘It was very much easier to be a good teacher in some schools than in others.’”

I think a lot of teachers who have taught in schools with a good “ethos” will understand the idea that it is “easier to be a good teacher in some schools than in others.”

This column sent me straight to the Internet to order a used copy of Fifteen Thousand Hours, which I write about this week in the Huffington Post.