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Findings from Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago

Jan 8, 2010 | Comments (5)

As states vie for billions in federal Race to the Top (RttP) funds designed to spur school improvement, a new book by us and our colleagues at the Consortium on Chicago School Research reveals what it really will take to turn around the nation’s neediest schools.

Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago conclusively demonstrates that there is no “silver bullet” for school reform—but there is a reliable recipe.

The key ingredients, which we call the “essential supports,” are school leadership, parent and community ties, professional capacity of the faculty, school learning climate, and instructional guidance. Schools that measured strong in all five supports were at least 10 times more likely than schools with just one or two strengths to achieve substantial gains in reading and math. A sustained weakness in just one of these areas undermined virtually all attempts at improving student learning.

The Five Essential Supports:

School leadership: This support refers to whether principals are strategic, focused on instruction and inclusive of others in their leadership work. Schools with strong school leadership were seven times more likely to improve in math and nearly four times more likely to improve in reading than schools weak on this measure.

Parent-community ties: This support refers to whether schools are a welcoming place for parents and whether there are strong connections between the school and local institutions. Schools with strong parent involvement were 10 times more likely to improve in math and four times more likely to improve in reading than schools weak on this measure.

Professional capacity: This support refers to the quality of the faculty and staff recruited to the school, their base beliefs and values about change, the quality of ongoing professional development and the capacity of staff to work together. Schools where teachers were highly committed to the school and inclined to embrace innovation were five times more likely to improve in reading and four times more likely to improve in math than schools weak on this measure.

Student-centered learning climate: This support refers to whether schools have a safe, welcoming, stimulating and nurturing environment focused on learning for all students. Schools with strong safety and order were two times more likely to improve in reading than school weak on this measure. Instructional guidance: This support refers to the organization of the curriculum, the nature of the academic demand or challenges it poses, and the tools teachers have to advance learning (such as instructional materials). Schools with strong curriculum alignment were four times more likely to improve in math and reading than schools weak on this measure.

We also found that weakness in one area can amplify the negative effects of another weakness, while strength in one can amplify the positive effects of another. For instance, 33 percent of schools with weak teacher educational backgrounds and 30 percent of schools with weak professional communities stagnated. But 47 percent of schools with weaknesses on both measures stagnated.

To summarize, school organization drives improvement, and individual initiatives are unlikely to work in isolation. This finding has strong implications for states and districts focused on any number of reforms that have gained increasing political currency—improving teacher quality, turning around low performing schools, or mandating a single curriculum, for example.

Posted in: Applied Research


Bill Truesdale said:

Thank you to the author team at the Chicago Consortium of School Research : Tony Bryk, Penny Bender Sebring, Stuart Luppescu, and John Eason your book on “Organizing Schools for Improvement Lessons from Chicago ” has given me tremendous insight as the Principal of Taylor School in the importance of building instructional capacity, building a parent base and highly engaging the community, and building trust vertically and horizontally. In addition, as I prepare to present my performance management session in May 2010. I will be sharing the book with my school leadership team, performance managment team, and SIPAAA team. In my role as adjunct professor teaching E.L.C.F. 5340 and E.L.C.F. 5350 at Chicago State as the practicum supervisor of field experiences in School Leadership and Management. I will ahare the book with my graduate students. I also want to thank Cisco and Webtex for the opportunity to attend the Webinar.

January 14, 2010 11:24 AM

Bill Truesdale said:

The research on the essential supports gives me a clear focus on the organization the big picture. The four components: school leadership, parent community ties, professional capacity, and student learning work together to produce a powerful synergy to drive school improvement and raise academic achievement. This information is a great resource to share with the school community as we work together to develop the 2010-2012 SIPAAAA at Taylor School.

January 14, 2010 1:35 PM

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