Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We Already Know What Works

Another school year is already flying by and my seniors are celebrating this morning with a breakfast cook out. The reason? They have all submitted their senior project proposals, another step towards meeting the standards we have set for them here at FHHS. As I chat and eat with them, I am reminded that for many students this school year has not started this way. Rather, they are still plodding through schools focused soled on standardized tests and credit accumulation. What a shame.

Last week I had the great fortune to join a panel of luminaries in educational change at the National Network for Educational Renewal conference. The authors of the book Those Who Dared, John Goodlad, James Comer, Henry Levin, and (via video tape) Ted Sizer were present to share their personal stories of how they came to spend their lives working for good schools for all of our children.

Near the end of the lively session I was moderating the question and answer period when the most memorable question was asked: “What do you still not know?”

In a nutshell, the panel all shared their frustration with why, after years of success in multiple settings, the school change and renewal strategies they had championed had not penetrated the policy world. Why indeed?

For example, Jim Comer talked about the clear and compelling evidence drawn from his work in multiple schools that when childrens’ developmental needs are attended to they will be more successful in school ( And yet none of this good work and research, carefully documented over years of practice, has made it into the educational policy framework in DC or the states.

Then there is the work of Deb Meier, who created in both New York and Boston outstanding secondary and elementary schools focused on respecting children and the work they can do. There is simply no arguing with her success, and her students have been tracked for years after graduation. But one would look in vain to see how the structures and environments Meier has developed would be supported in educational policy.

Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools (of which my high school is a proud member) is currently documenting through transcript studies the success of our students in college. The evidence is clear—our students have higher grade point averages, credit attainment, and progress towards graduation than the average high school graduate – despite often stemming from the poorest of backgrounds.

So what gives? Is Congress an “Evidence Free Zone?” Or is something else at work?

Could it be that there is no profit to be made by textbook publishers or testing companies in the strategies of Comer, et al? Or is there something about the trust that Meier and Goodlad put in teachers that rubs the wrong way those who see our teaching corps as just the hired help? Maybe it is Levin’s and Sizer’s insistence on the equitable treatment of every student, not just the privileged, that just is too much to swallow?

I am not sure which of these explains our reluctance to do what we know works when it comes to children and schools. But I do know that it is time to take the campaign slogan “Yes We Can” and give it some new life. Yes, we can do the right thing for our children and our schools…right now, right here, because we already know what to do, we just have to do it.

1 comment:

  1. Contrast your school with my son's. His teacher told me he tested low on reading and will need extra reading help. I'm grateful he can receieve it. But when I asked what seemed to be the issue with his reading, she said she didn't know yet, because (this was early October) they spend the first month of school on testing. So she hadn't had a chance to read with him yet. What a bummer to the start of the school year.