Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Refreshingly Meaningful Education Reform

Ed Week has a story up on a new book out that analyzes 15 years of school performance in Chicago and comes up with... surprise, what we've been trying to do all along.  Apparently the 5 keys to a successful urban school are:
• Strong leadership, in the sense that principals are “strategic, focused on instruction, and inclusive of others in their work”;
• A welcoming attitude toward parents, and formation of connections with the community;
• Development of professional capacity, which refers to the quality of the teaching staff, teachers’ belief that schools can change, and participation in good professional development and collaborative work;
• A learning climate that is safe, welcoming, stimulating, and nurturing to all students; and
• Strong instructional guidance and materials.
What's interesting here is that, as the authors note, none of these are silver-bullet type solutions, but taken together, just a comprehensive picture of what good "culture" looks like at a school.  It isn't simply about a fancy new curriculum, high-powered teaching, more assessments, professional development, merit-pay schemes or any other new trick.  If anything, the key is a school administration that is able to deliver on a range of factors that go into making a school work.  But it is the sum of the parts, how they interact and build on each other that delivers the final result.

Anthony S. Bryk, an author of the book, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons From Chicago , is quoted as pointing out that if a school is weak in any of these 5 areas it will likely fail.  While these are largely generalities, and effectively creating each is not an easy task, it is a reminder that we can't reduce educational reform into easy, sound-bite-ready slogans.  If we don't look at the whole picture - the curriculum, teachers, assessments, administration, staff, community... all of it, we're setting ourselves up for failure.

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