Friday, March 26, 2010

Was conforming the secret to raising scores at Euclid Elementary?

Sam Hodgson

Carol Manivone teaches her fourth grade class about bibliographies at Euclid Elementary.

Was conforming the secret to raising scores at Euclid Elementary? Of course not. It was the collaboration. But apparently conforming is a good way to get the collaboration. It seems that weak teachers benefit from being told exactly what to do.

Small Changes Made a Big Difference at One School
March 18, 2010
Voice of San Diego

...Teachers lost some freedom to decide when and what they'd teach; not everyone was pleased. But the change fit into a bigger push from Jacobson and the state monitors to get teachers on the same page, teaching the same thing at the same time. Teachers decided to keep it even after the state stopped eyeballing their scores. Bounce from one fourth grade classroom to another at Euclid on the same day and you'll see both sets of kids penning biographies of Marie Curie and Martin Luther King Jr.

"If one person is off in left field," asked second grade teacher Starla Ortiz, "how can we discuss what was successful and what wasn't?"

Conforming allowed teachers to work together: They could talk about their strategies on similar lessons instead of talking past each other. Teachers from each grade gather to look at regular, shared tests throughout the year, meeting for a whole day every six weeks and for shorter sessions more often. They analyze what kids understand and what they don't. They learn from coworkers whose kids ace the tests.

And they decide together how to re-teach the things students missed, then give students a quick, common quiz to make sure it worked. The philosophy is that two heads -- or many more -- are better than one. It also prevents gaps in learning, because everyone knows what is being taught and when. It might sound simple, but many schools lack organization -- or trust -- and fail to coordinate...

Johnson said that trust is one of the key ingredients in surprisingly successful schools: Teachers focus on getting kids to master their classes, not just finish them. They work together and share problems and successes. They back each other up -- but they don't let each other slack off. While reformers often talk about school accountability, Johnson said, they often fail to understand how school culture can be a powerful form of social accountability. Teachers don't want to let fellow teachers down.

That pressure is even more potent when they all have the same students, which now happens at Euclid. Teaching the same things at the same time also freed teachers to send children from class to class. Euclid teachers call it "deploying." Teachers temporarily divide up the students in their grade based on their abilities. Each teacher coaches a group with similar skills, allowing them to focus on their needs.

"You don't close your door. It's not like that anymore," said Carol Manivone, a fourth grade teacher. "Now they're all our kids."

And that altered how teachers teach. Euclid educators are constantly checking whether kids get it. When Ellen Leuthard poses questions to her second graders about grammar, they hold up whiteboard slates, allowing her to instantly see who understood and who didn't. Euclid may not look very different from the outside, but it actually changed what happens inside classrooms. Many schools don't...

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