Tuesday, April 27, 2010

But What Are Good Schools Actually Doing?

The NY Times profiles a Brooklyn public school that "succeeds despite the odds."  While refreshing in that it isn't yet another glorification of a miracle charter school, I don’t see much going on in this article that doesn’t happen in most schools. It isn’t that there aren’t actual differences – just that the article didn’t really capture anything meaningful.

It did, however, point out that there is a waiting list for the school. While a sign that the school is indeed doing a good job, this leads to a selection bias (important because it skews population-based comparisons).

In his book, Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons From Chicago, Anthony Bryk analyzes data from 15 years of successful schools and comes up with 5 key elements of success:

• 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.
Notice that testing is conspicuously absent. The reason for this is obvious to any teacher: assessment is standard good practice. Every good teacher does it, and they do it in a variety of ways that are 100x more meaningful than standardized testing. Standardized testing gives you relatively good data from the school or district level. But at the classroom level, its worthless for everyday instruction. As a part of a punitive process, it’s problematic for a number of reasons. A good principle with proper resources will find much more meaningful information from simple classroom visits and discussion with the teacher.

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