Effective Schools Part II
Researchers who have studied effective schools have found that such schools possess the following characteristics: (1) a clear sense of purpose, (2) core standards within a rigorous curriculum, (3) high expectations, (4) commitment to educate all students, (5) a safe and orderly learning environment, (6) strong partnerships with parents, and (7) a problem solving attitude (The Trouble with Black Boys, Noguera pg. 36).
In the first post on effective schools, I discussed the need for having a clear sense of purpose in order for a school to succeed. That purpose must come from the leadership and be fostered by the leadership. In part two, I will examine the need for core standards within a rigorous curriculum and the responsibility of each content area team to develop and implement that curriculum.
There exists within all careers a certain lexicon which needs deciphering, sometimes even within that profession. A simple search of the words "core standards" reaps very little in terms of understanding what exactly that means other than giving examples. For our purposes, I will focus on content standards which are essential to the course. Of course, we must keep in mind the State frameworks when doing this work.
I currently teach Supplemental Reading to emerging readers (the spin doesn't stop here!) One of the standards my students should arrive to the ninth grade with expects students to "Use stated or implied evidence from the text to draw and/or support a conclusion" (CT PK-8 English Language Arts Curriculum Standards pg. 73). When my readers arrive to the ninth grade lacking this skill, and others, the curriculum used or developed for my class must include this standard.
Allow me one moment of digression. The reality that many students arrive at our high schools having not met the core standards of their previous classes is often overlooked by those who focus their attention on failing high schools and drop out rates. A test in the 10th grade, given to students who have not met standards agreed upon for the 8th grade is not the result of failing high schools; the blame must be given to the entire system, K-12.
Clear standards expressing the core knowledge or skills necessary in a content area absolutely do give focus to teachers. Great companies go to great lengths defining the core standards of success. When I bartended for Red Robin, one of the best in the burger business, the core standards were clear to me. My pours had to be accurate in measure; my final product had to include the correct intoxicants and correct garnishes. Before each shift, I had to establish that I could pour the correct measure. If I failed to accurately free pour that morning, I was required to use a jigger--that never happened, though. The companies committment to clear standards, and holding us to them, is what makes them successful.
For most, the core standards are provided by the State. And depending on your State, those standards may be more or less clear and specific. The less specific, the more you and your department must develop and articulate the core standards.
Typically it is not the core standards that cause our schools to fail. We often miss the mark because we fail to develop and maintain rigorous curriculum. Much has been written about developing rigorous curriculum, and so I will leave its definition undefined by me. What I am more concerned about is the lack of accountability from one grade to the next. For too long, public education has survived under the all classrooms are an island theory, and the outcome has hurt too many students.
If school districts desire effective individual schools, much more has to be done to ensure that every student receives a rigorous curriculum focused on relevant learning experiences. More importantly, we must end the practice of allowing students to not meet the demands of that rigorous curriculum. For a ninth grade student to arrive at the high school reading at the second grade level is a failure of the second grade teacher on through the eight grade teachers (all content areas).
This reality means that elementary school teachers should collaborate with middle school teachers who should collaborate with high school teachers. If we create a professional learning community within the entire district, we can stop pawning of blame or responsibility onto others. An attention or core standards within a rigorous curriculum is the necessary by everyone involved; we are all responsible.