The June 7, 2010 edition of Forbes featured an article entitled “What Schools Can Learn from Money Managers”. If you can pick it up and read it, I would strongly recommend that you do so, as it is well worth reading. In the next few blogs, I will be discussing some of the important concepts addressed in this article.
The article zeroes in on Achievement First, a nonprofit out of New Haven, Connecticut, which operates 17 charter schools in Connecticut and New York and is described as “more like an information-driven company than an old-fashioned school district”. The emphasis in these schools is on closing educational gaps, particularly among African American students and students from low income households, showing yearly progress as well as successful passage of state achievement tests, and increasing graduation and college-bound percentages.
In a nutshell, here is a basic outline of how these charter schools are attaining success. First, children in kindergarten through second grade are given one-on-one reading comprehension tests which are graded on a scale of 1 to 12. If the results indicate that the entire class struggled on the tested concept, teachers would reteach that concept. “But if individual students fall behind, the school pulls them out into separate groups for intensive instruction on their individual weak points. The extra lessons can be delivered on a computer or during a lunchtime tutoring session; the important thing is that teachers and administrators are constantly watching and adjusting their methods as test results come in.”
Additionally, some companies, like Wireless Generator, who have traditionally worked behind the scenes in the medical industry, are now in the business of providing software that teachers can use to regularly assess students in reading proficiency and math skills. “The software can differentiate causes of failure, distinguishing between students who are too slow and those who make errors; it can also flag kids (who don’t understand the concept).Then it prompts the teacher to group children at similar developmental stages together and provides proven instructional techniques for their particular problems.” How awesome! Software that is set up to evaluate individual weaknesses, compile lists of students with similar weaknesses, and recommend the appropriate remediation to resolve those weaknesses! And the article is quick to point out that this information is in no way used to discipline or call out a teacher, but rather to teach them how to be most effective in providing students with the skills they need to master problematic concepts.
It boggles my mind, and hopefully yours too, when I wonder whether such an approach to education is possible on the national level, which is the gist of this article! We have a head start already: nationally aligned standards. What if… now just imagine this…what if each school district was linked into a national data base like Wireless Generator with the same national assessments to be administered periodically throughout the year, and providing the same kind of feedback which is available to these charter schools? Imagine if teachers whose students scored well on an assessment were utilized to tutor those students at that grade level who were red flagged for that skill. Or, they could be used, along with the instructional techniques offered through the software, to help coach teachers at that grade level to work with students who were struggling. Imagine if we looked at our individual classes as the launching pad from which students would be moved throughout the tutoring time to different teachers in order to achieve the best results for all students. And imagine if all of this was orchestrated through a national program that all schools had access to rather than each school system doing their own thing and reinventing the wheel to develop formative assessments, evaluate test results, and decide what to do from there.
When I read about the success of these charter schools, I can’t help but be a little envious of the resources they have that most public schools do not. But, at the same time, it motivates me to use this information to get something going on a smaller scale in our school next year. Next year in our district, teachers will be meeting as a grade level once a week for both reading and math to look over results we are generating from formative assessments and use those results to plan effective teaching strategies to meet the needs of those students who are not achieving. After reading this article, I am hopeful that we might implement some of these same techniques. And in the meantime, I can always dream that at some point we will experience the kind of reform mentioned in Forbes on a national level.
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