Every school we partner with is unique, with its own strengths and challenges. Despite this, some things hold true no matter the type of work.
Being Willing to Change: There are many research-based interventions, models and programs that can be effective. Whatever the chosen approach, however, it must be implemented with fidelity. Schools and those within them must be willing to change, and all parties must align themselves and buy into the improvement model and the Non-Negotiables that come with it. It can be adjusted to reflect local context and concerns, but it requires full buy-in from the superintendent, principals and teachers. We have found a high correlation between fidelity to the model and results. It is sometimes said that, “Staying the course can be as important as the course taken.” We have found this to be true. Most low-performing schools are not going to turn around completely and totally in years 1, 2 or 3. Deep, sustained improvement is a multiple-year process. Though we must hold them accountable, we must allow those going through transformation to stay the course as they pursue real, meaningful reform.
Smaller is Better: Smaller and autonomous is even more effective. “Small” dramatically improves the “possibility” for improvement, but it is what you do with those smaller learning environments that increases the “probability” of improvement.
Structure and Instruction: You can’t just change the structure and expect to see results. Radical changes in structure and instruction are necessary.
Data, Data, Data: From the beginning of our work, we made a strong commitment to collect and analyze both short-cycle and longitudinal data, not only for the purpose of tracking the progress of our sites, but also for the purpose of using the data to improve our technical assistance and support to the schools, which should ultimately lead to improvements in instruction. We have a relentless focus on data and our schools have become addicted to it as well.
Parental and Community Involvement: Parental and community involvement is essential to school reform success and sustainability. Broad stakeholder ownership is the best way to ensure that the reforms will survive the inevitable and frequent turnover in our districts and schools.
Concerns About Cost: Concerns about cost are often perceived, but without basis. Despite popular opinion, it does not necessarily cost more money to operate a small school design in high schools than it does to operate traditional large high schools. We’ve shown this to be true in our work.
Harold Brown, Senior Officer for the Advancement of Underserved Learners for KnowledgeWorks, explores and develops opportunities for KnowledgeWorks to invest and partner in initiatives designed to dramatically improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged youth.