Schools that succeed

Some schools with disadvantaged students are closing the achievement gap writes Karin Chenoweth in U.S. News. One common element is a do-whatever-it-takes attitude.

In Virginia, Graham Road Elementary found its immigrant students weren’t able to decode words, despite the “balanced literacy” program.

. . . many of them (80 percent speak a language other than English at home) were still too unfamiliar with the sounds of English to decode words fluently. So the kindergarten and first-grade teachers focused on helping students recognize the sounds within words. Students play rhyming games, learn nursery rhymes, and play the occasional game of “I’m packing my suitcase, and in it I put . . .” where every item needs to start with a particular letter.

Similarly, in the older grades, teachers noticed that many students didn’t have the background knowledge that would allow them to read anything more complex than simple stories. The teachers set up classroom computers where they cue up short documentaries on specific topics as preparation for specific readings. If the class is going to read a book that mentions earthquakes and dump trucks, students watch films on both before reading the book.

Other schools have made collaboration work for their students.

Of course, these schools all have very strong, capable principals, who are in short supply.

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  1. One could also add that such capable principals are often very good at sharing power with their staff.

  2. I teach at a rural middle school in Manitoba; I like to think our school succeeds because our principal doesn’t tie us to a particular program – whatever works! I agree with claus – capable principals (and superintendents) let their teachers teach. In other words, if a fully competent teacher (or any professional, for that matter) is given the chance to be creative, then great things tend to happen with students’ learning.

  3. Mike Curtis says:

    Or…they’re teaching their students English.

  4. Oh yes… great principals are key. I have one of the best.

  5. Too bad their successes, and thus their skills, result in zero professional recognition.

  6. A strong principal is an absolute must in schools. I’ve been amazed in my new position to see the incompetence that exists at the administrative level. Sadly, it leads me to believe that those who can’t teach become administrators.

  7. Karin Chenoweth says:

    Thanks, Joanne, for talking about my article.

    Those who have said that leadership is key are exactly right. But it isn’t just a matter of letting teachers teach, because that can result in an incoherent education for students. It is a matter of making sure good teachers are making thoughtful decisions–and then helping those teachers look honestly at their data so they can improve their instruction.

    I hope folks who are interested will consider reading my book, How It’s Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools, which talks in detail about how these high-performing schools operate.

    Karin Chenoweth


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