Yes, it is possible to turn around consistently low-performing schools. That's the message of a recent Department of Education report. Read of some schools that turned around performance. Learn how they did it!
Those are just three of many success stories told in a May 7, 1998, U.S. Department of Education 68-page report, Turning Around Low-Performing Schools: A Guide for State and Local Leaders. The report provides general guidelines and specific tips for educators and state and local officials on how to turn around persistently low-performing schools.
To combat ineffectiveness in schools, a definition of effective schools is needed. According to a recent study of 26 high-achieving, high-poverty schools in Texas and decades of research, effective schools demonstrate the following characteristics:
No one characteristic indicates a low-performing school, and generally no single new practice can change a school from low-performing to effective. But a section of "Turning Around Low-Performing Schools" focuses on a cluster of positive actions that can lead to positive results. Titled "Focus on Learning: Promising Strategies for Improving Student Achievement," this section provides concrete information and suggestions.
"Improving the school learning environment requires more than the implementation of get-tough disciplinary measures," maintains the report. It also requires a focused curriculum.
San Antonio, Texas, high schools offered about 2,600 courses when Superintendent Diana Lam tackled the reorganization of high schools in her district. Lam reduced central office staff so she could devote more resources to creating an instructional guide for each high school. The guides concentrated on curriculum and instruction rather than administration. Now she focuses on instituting smaller learning communities, called academies, with rigorous curricula and standards.
Community School District #2 in New York City, which spans a diverse population from the Upper East Side to Chinatown, has made a commitment to ongoing improvement in curriculum and instruction. By cutting district office expenses and non-instructional positions in the district's schools, the district freed a large percentage of its total resources for professional development.
A focus on professional development goes hand-in-hand with an effective curriculum. A curriculum, in many ways, is only as good as its teachers.
"The bottom line is that there is just no way to create good schools without good teachers. Those who have worked to improve education over the last decade have learned that school reform cannot be 'teacher-proofed.' Success in any aspect of reform -- whether creating standards, developing more challenging curriculum and assessments, implementing school-based management, or inventing new model schools and programs -- depends on highly skilled teachers," states the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.
Action within the schools is not sufficient, either. Continuous support from the district and state levels is also needed. The Consortium for Policy Research in Education has found that states must
In addition, the Consortium found that districts must
What's most helpful about "Turning Around Low-Performing Schools" is its specificity. In addition to generalizations about creating effective schools, the report offers individual case studies demonstrating what school districts actually did to ensure safer schools, improve students' reading assessment, enable more students to take challenging courses, and nurture professional development.
At the end of the section "Focus on Learning: Promising Strategies for Improving Student Achievement," the report identifies school reform models that readers can investigate. These models include High Schools That Work, Modern Red Schoolhouse, and Success for All. It also points out other sources for discovering education reform networks and models.
Educators in search of pertinent information about and resources for turning around their schools will find the report insightful and timely.
Article by Sharon Cromwell
Copyright © 2006 Education World