Why You Need Both Data and Common Sense for School Reform
By Matthew Lynch
The first step to positive K-12 reform within a school and a district is to find a starting point. Often, data sets are used to determine this – but really, so much more should go into it.
Districts that demonstrate continuous positive results often base their decisions on data alone, as opposed to relying on observations and data together. Schools should regularly evaluate the pros and cons of instructional programs and realize that standardized tests should constitute only a piece of the assessment puzzle rather than the entirety. Continuously monitoring the progress the school’s student body makes will allow the task force to amend the reform plan as needed.
Successful schools also take measures to institute checks and balances, to ensure the decision-making process is distributed among a variety of reform participants. Superintendents are charged with the duty of ensuring that the implementation and sustaining of improvement efforts are done in a positive manner and meet the needs of the students. The team leader’s job is to ensure teachers have all of the tools needed to foster the academic performance of students.
Districts all over the country recognize accountability as the key to the school’s improvement process. Everyone is expected to perform at optimal levels, or must face the consequences. To ensure that staff and faculty members are able to perform at optimal levels, the school district must provide them with high-quality professional development.
Modify, Modify, Modify
In order to complete the process of school reform, restructuring efforts must be monitored and evaluated. The process of evaluation can be completed in-house, or the leader can hire outside consultants to perform the task. If the task force is willing to evaluate the success of the school’s reform, they must first develop a plan for evaluation.
The team’s evaluation plan should have been developed before the reform was implemented. Performance goals that were created at the beginning of the restructuring process should be used to guide the evaluation process. The team will need to decide who will collect, analyze, and interpret the data. In order to avoid biased results, it may be in the best interest of the school to hire an outside consultant who may provide a more objective assessment of the reform efforts. The team will also use the results to determine whether or not the reform efforts were effective.
The results may indicate that the reform was not a success. In this case, the best solution is to build upon the small successes and learn from mistakes. Another reform could then be implemented or the unsuccessful reform amended to better suit the needs of the school. School restructuring is a long-term process. Reform occurs on a continuous cycle that must be sustained in order for improvements to be maintained and furthered. Keep in mind that not every restructuring effort bears fruit. Even the best schools have to continue to work in the restructuring process.
Successfully implementing and sustaining school reform is possible. It may not be easy, but with a tremendous effort, the utilization of all resources, and the expertise of professionals, school reform can be successful. The level of success the school is able to achieve will be based on the school’s predicament. Whatever the obstacles, the leaders’ decisions need to be resolute to foster academic achievement. While data is certainly a starting point, there is a lot more that goes into the bigger picture of smart school reform – and districts should recognize that and work towards solutions that not only make sense on paper, but also in real life.