Saturday, September 1, 2012

Leadership in Education - Good vs Great

So, we're listening to Bill Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, and he shoots off some statistics and statements that leave me puzzled. Here I discuss some thoughts about the "Best Schools in the Country."

Bill and his team went into hundreds of schools and tried to identify what made them great. I'm good with his method: they went and looked and identified habits and tactics, then looked at success rates, and tried to find commonalities.

"Let's take the top 100 hundred elementary schools and narrow them down to 30, then we'll look to see if they ALL do a particular something." They did that and found that all of the most improving schools did "looping", a program in which the 2nd grade teacher follows the kids to third grade and then goes back to the 2nd grade. The teacher can then see the results of her teaching and make improvements.

Another was the cross-discipline departments. Don't have a math dept and an English dept. Have departments made up of various teachers and give them a common planning period. (Not something I've seen in the top private schools but maybe things have changed.)

I like this method. You find what people are doing experimentally, identify which schools are doing well, and try to make connections.This has classic correlation vs causation error written all over it, but it is far better than the usual methods which entail trial and error with no analysis of the error - the fad of the moment, repeated annually.

Bill kept saying to us, "You're good ... but you can be great."

But then I thought about it on the ride home.

He said that the best schools in the country could all be identified by looking at the socio-economic status of the neighborhood, that they all had wealth in common so he only focused on the "30 most improving schools".  He never specified whether the schools were going from the 5th percentile to the 15th or from the 45th to 65th or even from 85th to 90th.

I want to know about what schools who improve are doing, but they may be changing from crap to fair. Show me what the best schools are doing, too.  There's a reason they are good ... and it's not just money. I want to know what methods and practices are common to both of these categories. This is important because my school may be doing fairly well already and methods that work with one set of kids aren't necessarily the ones I'd use with mine.

I went to a private school and to public school and I've taught at both types of institutions. I know there's a difference, but my experience in private schools is from before the Great Change (widespread availability of special education) and before tech really stood up and made itself vital to education.

Here are some questions:

If the best schools in the country are only found in wealthy districts as Bill said, then should I be imitating them with my groups? Is it a lost cause for my students or should I imitate the methods used at Phillips Exeter? (I do, anyway, but the question remains)

If my school is doing well because my state has pretty high standards and our kids missed our state's cutline but would have sailed past the cutlines for 44 other states, do I look for radical innovation or should I quietly tinker with my practices?

We paid this guy. We got a few dribs and drabs over the four hours. You can buy the "Best High Schools in the Country" report for $175. Not to be greedy but if this PD was nothing more than shilling for his reports, then my reaction is to be a lot more critical of his information. I want to know if it's the straight dope
 or just hype and fear to sell snake oil.

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