We Are Going and We Will Get There

Post by CJN

Woyaya, a gentle, melodic song from South Africa encourages the singer to keep walking, even when the road is hard and muddy and rough, or when she can’t see how far she still has to go.

Of course, the song was composed to keep up the spirits of those pressing for freedom from apartheid, but even now for low-performing schools in today’s education world, the road is long and rough.  And those who embark on a turn around effort need every good word and good tune.

Fortunately, a few studies (see post 6/24) have researched the traits of the schools that are moving in spite of the travails on the road.

In 2008 I heard a presentation from the Mass Insight Education & Research Institute, Inc. that outlined the bold steps a school,  school district, and state must take to see students perform as well as students in the most high-performing schools in the country.

Geoffrey Canada, Founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, 2004, was quoted, “Instead of helping some kids beat the odds…why don’t we just change the odds?”

A brief summary of the findings to change the odds shows that instead of a model that merely tries to keep up with the curriculum, the school or district or state must pursue a model that will help each member of the entire school succeed.  Change occurs when the students, teaching staff, administration, and parents are ready to act.

Unfortunately, as we’ve posted on this blog, (5/16 and 5/20), there is little leverage, i.e. funding, from No Child Left Behind legislation; there are few exemplars that are easily available to school districts; there is a lack of public will to sustain support for any school.

Finally, there is a lack of highly visible collaboration among schools, districts, and the state to pull together-as the song urges, no matter how hard the road or far away the end of the trail.

Now, to overcome the odds (some say 5000 low-performing schools will need to be restructured by 2010) the report from the Mass Insight group offers three components, sending the undaunted toward coherent, comprehensive change.

First, revise the conditions for work, time, money, staff, and programs used.  Teachers and administrators will all have to agree on the incentives for work (often a teacher’s union issue), accept the negative impact of the status quo, and be willing to pursue aggressive performance targets.

Second, the capacity to turn around a school requires a school staff that understands and prepares to sustain a revised curriculum, invites other community partners to support the turn around (from nearby universities, for example), and includes students and parents in the effort.  See the article at the end of the Program tab for takecareschools.com.

Third, clustering bolsters successful collaboration for change, the desire to be part of a successful team.  For instance, several schools can band together to access resources, share success, and offer support.

While the components for program improvement seem obvious in a report, be assured beating the odds requires relentless, consistent effort.

That’s why I remember the words “It will be hard we know, and the road will be muddy and rough, but we’ll get there.”

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