Stacey Gauthier, a co-principal of Renaissance Charter High School, and Marc Waxman, who is opening a charter school in Denver, are corresponding about school policy. Read their entire exchange.
I’ve been thinking about your question asking me for my metaphor for the concept of teacher effectiveness. The direct answer is that I am a firm believer in these three C’s for organizational success: collaboration, cooperation and communication. Therefore, while individual teacher effectiveness is important, in the end we need a team of effective educators to have a successful school. So with that, and with no slight intended to the work it takes personally to be a successful educator, let me challenge somewhat the concept of teacher effectiveness in and of itself.
I want to argue that effective schools, as organizations, help create effective teachers. Now, I realize that this is a bit of a chicken and egg argument, but let me take this further. I understand that there are “stars” in many schools, no matter how poorly functioning the school itself may be. Hey, these are the folks of “To Sir with Love” and “Stand and Deliver.” There are also less effective teachers in all of the top-rated schools. And while ideally we want the best performance from each individual, and operationally we must strive for each and every staff member in a school to be highly effective, the measure of a great school is a collective one, not an individual one.
So, here is my list of the attributes for a highly effective school. I do not claim to be the originator of any of these, so thanks to all those people who have been advocating for these ideas. Please note that I did not put this list in value order and certainly there are schools that beat the odds by not having all of the ingredients which may in and of itself tell you something about the value of each attribute. You may notice, I hope, several charter school characteristics that I suggest should be available to all schools.
- Strong school-wide accountability objectives that both create a culture of high expectations for all students and understands the need to start where the kids are at (I want to thank Dr. Art Pritchard for our excellent conversation on this topic).
- Teacher leadership and decision-making ability. Teachers must be valued as professionals and experts and supported as such. This attribute should be further elaborated to include evaluations, planning time, salary structure/benefits and other determinants for success.
- School level autonomy on matters such as programming, curriculum, budgeting and staffing and other policy decisions of importance. Without some degree of meaningful autonomy, it becomes very difficult to get buy-in around higher academic outcomes.
- The ability to determine class size and cut off over-the-counter enrollment. Please note that I am not necessarily advocating for low class sizes across the board. Nor am I advocating against them. I think there needs to be some school-level decision-making around this area and certainly most reasonable folks would agree that a constant influx of students is not beneficial to any learning environment. However, as a district we must serve all students regardless of their time of entry and this service should be equally distributed.
- Balanced enrollment of high needs students. When Renaissance first opened as a New Visions School, we had an admissions policy of 50% random lottery and 50% selection to balance demographics, academic levels, special education and English Language Learners. This created a specifically designed blended learning community that supported all of its members.
- Access to quality social and emotional support and educational resource services for students and their families. These can help level-the-playing-field with students who are more advantaged. While schools cannot be expected to reverse all the woes that poverty has on our students, we also cannot use poverty as an excuse to justify why children are not learning. As schools we can provide three hot meals to our students, after-school programming, tutoring/homework support, access to cultural institutions, counseling and connections to caring adults who can serve as lifelong role models for the young people we are charged with educating.
- A safe school community.
- A school where parents are valued and their participation is encouraged. I also feel that this participation is determined by the school community itself, not necessarily by an outside force.
- True measurements for authentic and sustainable learning beyond those of the required standardized exams. I was inspired by a workshop I attended sponsored by the UFT where this was discussed.
I would be interested in working on a system that would measure these attributes for each school and rate schools on each of the ingredients to build a successful program. Since we are so entrenched in a climate that promotes accountable talk and outcomes, let’s take it to the next step, or what should have been the first step, and make sure that we are setting up the systems and infrastructure so that every school and every teacher and administrator can be successful.
Marc, I would really like to hear your thoughts on this new “report card” that I am suggesting.