Nine Hard Things to Do in Order to Sustain School Reform (page 2)
For our June newsletter, The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement invited Ann Chafin to share her thoughts and ideas about sustaining school reform. Chafin, chief of Program Improvement and Family Support Branch of the Maryland State Department of Education, was a speaker at the annual Institute for CSR State Coordinators held May 9-10, 2005 in Washington, D.C. The Center sponsored the two-day event for coordinators to explore ways to create and maintain high-quality CSR programs as well as sustain comprehensive reform over time, and to make connections with other school improvement efforts.
Educators often say that schools should sustain reform without realizing that the expression is somewhat of an oxymoron. While the phrase is not on the level of "jumbo shrimp," one can't really hold or stay change. I think what we mean by sustaining reform is that we want to support all the good things that are going on in schools and not pull back from them. We want schools to solidify gains while pushing for more improvement. At times, it also means that we have done everything that's cheap and easy, and now it's time to do the things that are expensive and hard.
Following are nine statements for educators to consider when they face the hard work of sustaining school reform. It's important to remember that no one person can address all of the issues. I hope educators find in the list their role or the place where they have the power to create change and help students.
Schools need to do a much better job of using assessment data to help students learn. Think of it this way: Administering a test is a lot like taking someone's temperature; it provides a piece of data that describes what students know and are able to do. But what good is that if teachers don't use the information? Just taking someone's temperature doesn't make him or her well.
Like many students, educators spend too much time complaining that state and district exams are too hard or don't cover the right material. Such excuses are almost never true. I remember people kept saying our students did not do well on the Maryland School Performance Program assessment because the test was bad. That wasn't true. The reason that our students did not do well is that they didn't know the answers to the questions. It's not because they couldn't do it. We educators simply had not focused our instruction on what was being tested.
But we should not use data, especially information about a student's background, to make excuses about student performance. We might not be able to do anything about a student's family. We can't make a child get new parents. We can't make sure a student's mom earns a GED. But we can teach them. That's what we should focus on rather than creating excuses for why students can't learn.
It's easy to have volunteers; it's hard to have real parent involvement.
When my oldest daughter started kindergarten, I wanted to get involved. I was a really gung-ho parent. I had a master's degree plus 30 credit hours, and I was ready to go. When the school sent home a list of things parents could do, I found the only thing I was qualified for was to shop for snacks.
Parents should not be just volunteers; they should be partners in the education of their children. Maryland's Parent Advisory Council has developed some recommendations for fostering more meaningful family-school interaction, such as suggesting that parents of students currently enrolled in Maryland schools serve on the state board of education or that the evaluations of teachers and principals have a component related to successful parent involvement. The group also recommends that schools train parents on ways to help their children succeed academically and train school staff on how to open the school to real family involvement.
It's easy to do staff development; it's hard to develop staff.
Teachers don't need the sage-on-the-stage staff developers; they need on-the-job, ongoing professional development. They need instructors who will get into the classroom with them and help them teach. When I worked in a school district, I would tell members of my professional development team that they should create an individualized learning plan for each instructor. Every teacher requires something different to help him or her meet the needs of students. We all approve of differentiating instruction for students, but sometimes we lose sight of that practice with our teachers and administrators.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. © 2008 Learning Point Associates. All rights reserved.
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