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whole school improvement

A Short History of Ed Reform

This short video describes the history of Ed Reform and recommends that the focus be on high expertise teaching in every classroom.

The Mirage Report

The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development, a new report from The New Teacher Project (TNTP), should be much discussed. It is a study of teacher professional development that surfaces stark data about the failure of an $18 billion dollar investment to have much influence, according to school administrators, on improving most teachers’ practice.

Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) responds by accepting TNTP’s recommendations and adds that they are “not surprised that someone would call effective professional learning a mirage at this point…while we have thought for  years that we know what it takes to help people improve, the evidence doesn’t support it”. While it is true that there isn’t much empirical evidence to support our effectiveness in helping people improve, it doesn’t mean we don’t know how! The Mirage report reinforces that we do know what it takes:

  • All staff share a “vividly clear vision of instructional excellence that can be observed and measured” (p.35).
  • The bar set by this vision of excellent instruction is high, “an ambitious standard”…higher than what is tolerated in most schools in the United States (p. 35).
  • Teachers get weekly feedback about where they stand in relation to that high bar from trusted leaders, and debriefing from his or her coach for 30-45 minutes (p. 32).
  • The feedback is honest, rigorous and viewed as credible by the teachers (implications for training and certification of coaches and evaluators!). There are clear assessments without blame about their strengths and weakness for all teachers, as opposed to being “told in innumerable ways that their level of performance is good enough” which is what happens in most American districts (p. 36).
  • A culture of continuous learning about a complex knowledge and skill base where everyone is expected to improve no matter how experienced or high performing they already are. 80% of the teachers acknowledged they still had room to improve (p. 32).
  • Teachers spend two to three hours a week with other teachers reflecting on instructional practices (p. 32).
  • “Everyone in their school community is constantly working toward better instruction and pushing each other to do their best work…there is always going to be somebody to push you. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stagnate here” (p. 31).
  • There is “a culture and organizational structure centered on teacher development and its impact on student learning” (p. 33).

These are school settings that “make a more fundamental shift in mindset and define ‘helping teachers improve’…[as] providing them with information, conditions, and a culture [ital. not in original] that facilitate growth and normalize continuous improvement” (p. 35). Strong Adult Professional Culture (see my blog post of June 22, 2015) is the surround-sound that empowers professional learning. It’s not a mystery; and not something we haven’t known for a long time. It appears that we have to keep reminding ourselves what we know works. An important question is: what prevents us from doing it? How do we close the “Knowing-Doing Gap”?

Challenging Our Beliefs


Virtually all the reform initiatives of the late 20th and early 21st century (Response to Intervention (RTI), Data Analysis by Data Teams, Instructional Coaching, and PLCs) rely on commitment to a particular belief to be effective. These beliefs, however, are rarely an explicit part of the dialog in schools implementing the initiatives. It is important that they be addressed directly, because they provide the drive and the passion to implement the initiatives thoughtfully and deeply. Without surfacing and working to develop these beliefs, reform initiatives become empty shells.

Belief 1 –We believe everyone can “get smart.” Children’s learning is primarily determined by their effective effort and use of appropriate strategies. “Intelligence” is not a fixed, inborn limit on learning capacity. All children have the raw material to do rigorous academic work at high standards. Teachers who have internalized these beliefs believe it is their responsibility to:

  • Communicate belief and confidence messages to students
  • Constantly reexamine their practices in light of student results
  • Explicitly and implicitly teach their students how to mobilize effective effort
  • Teach their students strategies for successful learning

If we implement RTI without acting authentically from this belief, the structures of extra instruction for students functioning in lower tiers cannot succeed. We need to convince the students we believe in their capacity and they can actually increase their ability with effective effort at the same time as we do the re-teaching.

Belief 2 – We believe we need to develop deep collaboration and trust of our colleagues. The Data movement and the PLC movement bring student work to the table for analysis so that efficient and insightful plans can be made to address instructional problems. For teams to function well, however, teachers must believe a) they can safely reveal what they have been unsuccessful in teaching their students without fear of judgment or humiliation by peers and b) several people together will be smarter than one person alone in generating solutions to learning problems.

Belief 3 – We believe the knowledge and skill to teach well is both huge and complex – far beyond what the public or even education professional structures acknowledge. It’s on a par with that of architecture, law, or engineering. Thus, we must constantly reach out for new learning and create a school culture where we can learn from each other as we solve problems together.

Belief 4 – We believe culturally proficient teaching is an indispensable domain of professional skill. Despite programs of extended time, student advisories, small schools, new curricula, efforts to close the achievement gap cannot succeed unless disadvantaged students and students of color feel known and valued in the classroom and in the school. Culturally proficient teaching becomes not just a gesture to diversity, but also a knowledge-based ability to convey respect and value authentically to students of color.

The bottom line here for reformers and school leaders is that we have to work directly with our colleagues on developing these beliefs to drive any reform effort to success.

The Nation’s Education Workforce Supply Chain Needs an Overhaul!

Ten Disconnected Processes Form the Human Resource Pipeline for Teachers


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Good Schools?  Simple, it’s Good Teaching!

It’s simple to say but hard to do.  A decade of research replicated all over the country confirms that individual teacher knowledge and skill are the most significant variables in student achievement.  It’s the most important place to focus if we really want to improve student achievement.

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