Professional Educators

Case Study of Simplistic Notions

By Mark Simon

A powerful new book came out this past Fall based on careful analysis of the mixed record in the five-year effort to turn around high-poverty, low-performing schools in Chicago. It’s called Organizing Schools for Improvement; Lessons From Chicago, by Anthony Bryk et. al.. It puts to rest any notions that it’s as simple as getting rid of teachers or administrators, or that the causes of poor student achievement are easy to identify. Rather they paint a picture of schools as complex communities, requiring structural supports beyond the schoolhouse door.

At least five interconnected supports are necessary for success: School Leadership, Professional Capacity of the Teaching Staff, School Learning Climate, Parent, School Community Ties, and Instructional Guidance. Without the other factors, the professional capacity of individual teachers, or even the best encouragement of students and the belief that every student can learn will have little effect. Among other things, the authors point to relationships of trust as being key. And they point out that not all high-poverty schools are equal. Some conditions, they argue are so stacked against success that results cannot be used as a judgement of any individual educators.

The authors take a rigorous scientific approach. These “lessons” should become the new standard for how we look at school transformation efforts. The book puts to rest all simplistic notions about school turnaround and is a must-read for policy makers and anyone engaged in school transformation.  It should help silence holier-than-thou politicians and philanthropists who imply that it’s easy.

Mark Simon, former president of Montgomery County Education Association (MD) is with the Mooney Institute for Teacher and Union Leadership.

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