It takes a system

High-performing districts have “a well-coordinated system that knows how to develop clear goals, assess needs, support educators, evaluate programs, and review and respond to data in a consistent manner,” writes Heather Zavadsky, a former Broad Prize manager and author of Bringing School Reform to Scale, in Education Week.

. . . layering on programs and purchasing tools such as laptops will not automatically result in innovative instruction. Teacher training and ongoing support mechanisms must be factored into the overall plan. Nor will purchasing a data system with all the bells and whistles make a difference if districts do not address trust issues over data use and ensure the information’s usability and accessibility for key stakeholders.

. . . Even if a school has the best teachers available, its students will not move smoothly through a math curriculum that mistakenly omits an important skill like rounding (and if the district lacks sufficient data to discover that omission). Likewise, creating small, 21st-century learning academies that offer cutting-edge subjects like biotechnology will not be an effective improvement strategy if a district continually sends these schools students with subpar reading skills because it lacks appropriate reading interventions.

In short, it takes a system.

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  1. Who can argue with the need for order, organization, and knowledge of the students we are teaching?

    One impediments to that might be the career track in public education which, at least in some large districts, rewards people for mobility. When teachers and, even more so, administrators keep moving around we really need “a well-coordinated system” but I wonder if, under such conditions, it isn’t much harder to maintain…

  2. Why not have a master teacher track so teachers who are truly excellent and want to do nothing more than teach can receive the type of compensation they would receive if they move into an administrators role? I have seen too many excellent teachers promoted from the classroom to fail as administrators…there needs to be another way to compensate and recognize these highly effective teachers while keeping them in the classroom…

    our district is all over the place rather than implementing change across the board…it just do not work without addressing the system as a whole — it is a massive task to be sure but addressing each segment at a time harms the whole…no easy answers but the system needs to be rehab at one time for all grades, all teachers and all administrators…

  3. I would argue change has to be rolled out gradually and logically. Otherwise, you get chaos. I’ve seen a lot of change in my district since I began there, and most of it has been fairly first-things-first and consistent — and much of it has worked. Stuff that hasn’t has been re-thought and/or discontinued. It’s a process. It doesn’t help that once we get a handle on something the state up and changes stuff, but that’s what keeps us all employed, I guess.

    I think most teachers stay in the classroom to the end. It’s really only a small fraction who move into administration. It would be nice to have some sort of career track that acknowledged expertise. So far, the only one I’ve noticed is one that asks me to do extra (unpaid) work running workshops and such :).

  4. Math Teacher says:

    I would add that it isn’t necessarily the best teachers who go into administration. I’ve seen more evidence that the opposite is true. The best teachers seem to be the ones who are constantly striving to improve their teaching, and would likely feel less effective as admins.

  5. I always wonder who these “high performing districts” are. And how do we know that “addressing trust issues”, etc. causes the alleged high-performance, or merely correlates with it? It seems very likely to me that the districts are high-performing DESPITE the fancy-pants, energy-wasting programs their superintendents foist upon them, and that the main reason they’re high-performing is because they have lots of smart, well-off students. But perhaps if I actually read Zavadsky’s paper my skepticism would be laid to rest.

  6. Bill Leonard says:

    A view from an old mossback who learned to read, write and calculate in an essentially old-school, parochial country system:

    Why, oh why, are we always dealing with “issues” and “skill sets” and other assorted bullshit titles?

    Why aren’t kids simply taught to read with phonics, and held back a half-year if they can’t work to grade level (as happened when I went through the Des Moines school system, starting more than 60 years ago)?

    Why aren’t kids drilled in basic arithmetic until everyone simply knows the answer by heart in, say, the multiplication tables through the 12s?

    Well, no, it wasn’t modern and progressive. They even had corporal punishment on a rare basis. But kids learned.

    I was better educated at every grade level than my kids were. Obviously, I will do what I can financially to help my grandkids through private schools, given the working abortion that is the California public school system. (Two of my grandkids are in the Texas elementary system. It’s not perfect, but it’s light years ahead of the nonsense that goes on in the failed Golden State).

    Bitter? Shit yes, as a California taxpayer, I’m damned bitter!

  7. I agree, Math Teacher, that many of the best teachers are content to stay in the classroom. My concern is with administrators changing schools as part of the career ladder. I don’t know if that’s a problem elsewhere but in Los Angeles it is quite common and, I believe, undermines the stability necessary to institute the kind of “well-coordinated system” that really supports student learning.

    Only recently has the LA School Board enacted a rule disallowing principals from being reassigned in the middle of a school year!

  8. I agree with Bill Leonard: forget these “well-coordinated systems” –let’s just get an old-fashioned, coherent curriculum and teach it. This, more than these fraudulent new schemes, will prepare kids for the future (it worked for Eric Schmidt, didn’t it?) Unfortunately, ed leaders’ careers depend on making schooling seem flashy, new and complicated. Someone please show me one honest, wise administrator brave enough to say, “Let’s try the simpler, traditional model”.


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