Last week I had the privelege of attending a talk by Karin Chenoweth and Christina Theokas, authors of the fortchoming book, Getting it Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools. The event was co-sponsored by the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative and WKU's Center for Learning Excellence.
Karin and Christina are staff writers for Education Trust, the clearinghouse for data and resources about American education and how a handful of high-poverty schools are nevertheless demonstrating that all students can learn at high levels, regardless of circumstances. The authors shared stories of ordinary schools accomplishing pretty spectacular results - frequently reaching 90-100 percent proficiency in multiple subject areas in all targeted student groups (I'll update with a link to their presentation as soon as it is available). Their new book profiles leaders of such schools and how they are a key ingredient in turning around chronically low-performing schools.
Karin and Christina also shared what all these schools have in common:
- A laser-like focus on what students need to learn.
- Constant collaboration on how to teach it.
- Frequent formative assessments (they didn't use the word "formative," but its meaning is clear from the next bullet point).
- Using data to inform instruction.
- Building positive personal relationships with students and their families.
The reactions from the audience, made up of area principals and district leaders, were polite, but afterward I heard a wide range of comments. Some were appreciative and inspired, while others were skeptical that such results could be replicate in their schools, and yet others seem a bit puzzled because, after all, almost every school is "kind of" doing all the essential things the authors attributed to these high performing schools.
And they are, indeed, kind of doing all these things. But perhaps that is the key point.
We've learned so much in recent years about how to raise student achievement and the vast majority of schools are making a good go at new approaches to instruction and assessment that correlated to what research says really works. But in few cases are schools reaching the level of deep implementation, which Doug Reeves defines as what happens when "90 percent of teachers are doing a targeted behavior 90 percent of the time."
I still read so many school improvement plans that focus almost entirely on new computer programs or the work of various interventionists. You might easily conclude that regular classroom teachers have no responsibility toward making needed instructional improvements. But until the basics of good curriculum, instruction, and assessment, what Mike Schmoker calls "the Essentials," are embedded in every classroom, we'll still be "kind of" doing the work...and still not getting the results we're looking for.