Too often do we in the field of education policy end up discussing only the negatives: red tape, too little funding, changed programs, poor communication, lack of support, etc. In recent years, principals and teachers have often borne the brunt of the criticism, although research into successful schools consistently shows that good principals and teachers are doing the work each day that is necessary to create successful schools and students. A recent report, “Failure is not an Option,” from Public Agenda suggests some salient characteristics of successful schools, regardless of grade level or location.
Each of the nine schools was in the high-poverty and high-achieving bracket and faced such additional difficulties as tight budgets, sub-optimal parent participation, and ill preparation. So, in order to discern more about the reasons for success at these schools, Public Agenda asked the following questions of principals, teachers, students, and parents:
- How do they define the keys to success?
- What are some specific strategies and decisions that may contribute to their success?
- How do they sustain success?
- What helps them weather tough times?
Public Agenda found the following positive commonalities among the schools:
- Principals lead with a strong and clear vision for their school, engage staff in problem solving and decision making, and never lose sight of their school’s goals and outcomes.
- Teachers and administrators are dedicated to their school’s success and committed to making a difference in their students’ lives.
- School leaders provide genuine opportunities and incentives for teachers to collaborate and share best practices.
- Teachers regard student data as clarifying and helpful. They use it to inform instruction.
- Principals and teachers have high expectations for all students and reject any excuses for academic failure.
- School leaders and teachers set high expectations for school discipline and student behavior.
- Schools offer students nontraditional incentives for academic success and good behavior.
- Students feel valued, loved and challenged. They are confident that their teachers will help them succeed and be at their side if they hit a rough patch.
- Principals and teachers do not see the lack of parent and community support as an insurmountable barrier to student achievement and learning.
- School leaders and teachers seek continuous improvement for both their practices and student achievement. Today’s success is tomorrow’s starting point.
- Each school has its own story of change and improvement, yet some commonalities exist.
Finally, Public Agenda sought to find what could be done to sustain success:
- Plan for smooth principal transitions. Change is inevitable.
- Engage teachers.
- When hiring, make sure incoming teachers endorse the school’s vision and practices.
- Leverage a great reputation.
- Celebrate success.
The fact that one of the recommendations specifically mentions hiring is crucial; if it is so clear that good principals and teachers lead to successful schools, then that means that hiring good people takes a front seat in considerations of how to improve schools.
For an overview of the report and a link to the full report, please visit: http://www.publicagenda.org/pages/failure-is-not-an-option