We at DeFENSE defend the rights of school communities to use collaborative, all-stakeholder reforms to transform schools into vibrant learning communities that develop lifelong learners. Our democracy depends on this! In all the media blitz surrounding the corporate-based reform strategies that really aren’t garnering the results they tout, it’s important for us to demonstrate what works. Keep an eye on this page, as we gather research and examples of strategies that are making a real difference in schools and communities.
So, according to the research, what works?
- Building trust among school leaders, teachers, and students. A four-year study of over 400 Chicago elementary schools found that higher levels of trust in a school community is associated with higher levels of growth in student achievement. When members of a school community support one another, listen to and respect input from all levels, and work together toward common goals, students show greater achievement gains.
- Collective leadership. School communities led by principals who meaningfully involve teachers, parents and community members in making school-wide decisions are more successful than those where the principal makes decisions without others’ input.
- Reducing class sizes. Smaller class sizes have been linked to benefits as wide-ranging as increased student achievement, reductions in the achievement gap, greater effort and engagement among students, reduced health care costs, and more.
The Power of Bottom-Up School Reform: Brockton High School, Brockton, MA
Brockton High School has 61% students on free and reduced lunch, the standard indicator of poverty, in a student body of 4,100. It has increased student achievement to the point that it now outperforms 90% of other high schools in Massachusetts. This effort was started by a few teachers in 1999, who said they could do better. The administration got out of the way, according to a report written by Harvard Economics professor Ronald F. Ferguson. All this was done with not one teacher firing and with all union memberships intact.
Profiles of Success: Eight Colorado Schools that are Closing the Achievement Gap
Eight Colorado schools that are “beating the odds” for all of their students were studied, to see what common characteristics might be contributing to their success. The study found that key factors for success included:
- a culture of high expectations for all
- the use of data to guide instruction
- 1-on-1 and small group support for struggling learners
- teachers who were actively involved in school-wide leadership and decision-making
- time for collaborative planning and differentiated professional development for teachers
- a full academic curriculum that included the arts and other non-tested subjects
- stable leadership
- small learning communities
- flexibility to use resources as each community saw fit
- socioeconomic integration