Monday, November 21, 2005

Schools make a difference, not demographics

Or, so says Joanne Jacobs, who just wrote a book about a high school charter school in San Jose. Here she talks about some of the lessons learned by that school in its quest to raise the achievement of disadvantaged students. She also writes about successful elementary schools. Here are some of the insights from a study by Stanford's Michael Kirst who interviewed 257 high achieving elementary schools to determine what they do differently.
Effective schools make student achievement the school's top priority. The principal and teachers define plans to improve teaching and set measurable goals for exceeding API targets.

This has got to be our primary focus. At Halecrest, we are still trying to get our walk to match our talk. I honestly can say that we are getting closer to this ideal every day.
At these schools, reading, writing and math curricula are designed to teach the state's academic standards; teaching is consistent within grades and from grade to grade. Teachers don't close the classroom door and do their own thing.

Once again, we are approaching this goal. For the past year and a half, we have been striving for consistency. The collaboration is helping us achieve that goal. The process may seem too slow at times for some, and too fast for others, which means we are probably moving at a pace that is just right for all.
Principals manage instructional improvement with district support. High-scoring schools tend to be in districts that set clear expectations and evaluate principals based on student achievement.

My take on Chula Vista Elementary District is that this describes them perfectly. The expectations and the support are not lacking in the least.
At high-scoring schools, principals and teachers use data on student performance to fine-tune teaching, target help to students who are falling behind and identify teachers who need to improve.

Without this type of approach, all we have are opinions.
Parent involvement programs, strong discipline policies and collaboration and training opportunities for teachers had some benefit, but not nearly the impact of prioritizing achievement, implementing a coherent, standards-based curriculum, using data to improve teaching and providing adequate teaching resources.

It's good not to lose sight of these priorities and it serves as an excellent checklist to make sure that we are on the proper course.

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