"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's the curriculum, stupid

There was a remarkable story in the New York Times yesterday about a 4,000-student school in Massachusetts which has had spectacular results in raising student achievement across the curriculum by simply requiring students to write across the curriculum. Even Phys Ed (which some of the teachers complained about). There were no mass firings, no technology gimmicks, no alteration of the work rules. Time ordinarily spent in routine administrative meetings were spent in retraining teachers and getting everyone on board with the goals and the plan.

Incidentally, the focus on writing confirms my own long-held belief, confirmed in law school, that organized writing requires organized thinking; that one way to calm down the chaotic thinking in our students' brains is to make them habitual writers.

The success story comes from a report presented in June 2009 at the conference for The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University. Here's an excerpt from the abstract [emphasis mine]:
The main lesson from the presentations was that student achievement rose when leadership teams focused thoughtfully and relentlessly on improving the quality of instruction...Leadership teams succeeded initially because they used their positional authority effectively to jump-start the change process. Then they built trust. More specifically, they demonstrated commitment through hard work and long hours; they studied research-based literature to expand their knowledge and competence; they persevered to follow through on the promises they made; and they found ways to remain respectful of peers, even when asking them to improve their performance. In these ways, leadership teams earned the respect of their colleagues and the authority to push people outside their comfort zones. With cultivated competence and earned authority, they were able to help their colleagues overcome the types of fear and resistance that so often prevent effective reforms in American high schools.
Gee, I thought the thing was to threaten to fire teachers and completely demoralize the faculty!

The gazillionaires all claim that small schools and charter schools are The Answer. But apparently, they're not. Like everything else in education, it all comes down to curriculum.

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