Key Characteristics of Top-Performing Schools

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1 National Center for Urban School Transformation Key Characteristics of Top-Performing Schools Joseph F. Johnson, Jr., Ph.D. Executive Director, National Center for Urban School Transformation December 3, 2010 California School Boards Association 2010 Annual Education Conference

2 National Center for Urban School Transformation Dedicated to identifying, studying, and promoting the best practices of America s highest achieving urban schools in a manner that supports urban districts in transforming teaching and learning Learn more at the Annual Symposium on High-Performing Urban Schools in San Diego, CA May, 2012

3 NCUST Identifies, Celebrates, and Studies Schools in cities with a population of 50,000 or more Schools with large percentages of low-income students Schools that do not use selective admissions criteria These schools must evidence: High proficiency rates for all groups High graduation rates for all groups High rates of access to challenging programs for all groups No disproportionate enrollments of racial/ethnic groups in special education Low rates of suspension/expulsion for all groups Other indicators of student success/achievement If you know of a school that might qualify, please refer them to our detailed criteria on our website at

4 In the past five years, NCUST has identified 48 remarkable elementary, middle, and high schools in 15 different states.

5 2010 NCUST Award Winners Horace Mann Elementary, Glendale CA International Elementary, Long Beach, CA Lemay Elementary, Los Angeles, CA Nueva Vista Elementary, Los Angeles, CA Whitefoord Elementary, Atlanta, GA Horace Mann Dual Language Academy, Wichita, KS Branch Brook School, Newark, NJ Charles Lunsford School, Rochester, NY Marble Hills High School, Bronx, NY Escontrias Elementary, El Paso, TX Hambrick Middle School, Houston, TX Nathan Adams Elementary, Dallas, TX Stephens Elementary, Houston, TX

6 2009 NCUST Award Winners Bonham Elementary, Dallas, TX Bursch Elementary, Compton, CA Fallon Park Elementary, Roanoke, VA Franklin Town Charter High, Philadelphia, PA Golden Empire Elementary, Sacramento, CA Highland Elementary, Silver Springs, MD Ira Harbison Elementary, National City, CA Lawndale High School, Los Angeles, CA Kearny School of International Business, San Diego, CA KIPP Adelante Academy, San Diego, CA Montebello Gardens Elementary, Los Angeles, CA World of Inquiry School, Rochester, NY

7 Profiles of Two Schools NCUST Winner CA San Diego Unified % 43% 12% 14% 23% 31% 74% 87% 838 State: District: Grade Span Enrollment: % Low-Income % Latino % Black % White % Asian % Eng. Learners % Prof. English % Prof. Math API Neighboring School CA San Diego Unified % 39% 19% 19% 20% 15% 47.6% 52% 744

8 Profiles of Two Schools NCUST Winner CA Los Angeles Unified K-5 1,012 91% 96% 1% 2% 1% 21% 54% 71% 830 State: District: Grade Span Enrollment: % Low-Income % Latino % Black % White % Asian % Eng. Learners % Prof. English % Prof. Math API Neighboring School CA Los Angeles Unified K-5 1,198 91% 96% 1% 2% 1% 33% 41% 54% 747

9 Profiles of Two Schools NCUST Winner FL Broward 6-8 1,010 73% 7% 87% 3% 1% 3% 60% 79% State: District: Grade Span Enrollment: % Low-Income % Latino % Black % White % Asian % Eng. Learners % 8 th Prof. Reading % 8 th Prof. Math Neighboring School FL Broward % 9% 83% 3% 2% 6% 41% 50%

10 Profiles of Two Schools NCUST Winner NY Rochester City PK % 4% 94% 2% 0% 1% 78% 100% State: District: Grade Span Enrollment: % Low-Income % Latino % Black % White % Asian % Eng. Learners % 6 th Prof. Reading % 6 th Prof. Math Neighboring School NY Rochester City PK % 8% 87% 4% 0% 2% 46% 58%

11 What have we learned about these top-performing schools?

12 Characteristic #1: Top-performing schools have climates that nurture the commitment and engagement of teachers, parents, and students.

13 The Climate of Top- Performing Schools Students are eager to attend school. They believe they are likely to succeed academically. They perceive that adults in the school care sincerely about their success. Teachers believe they are part of a team that is making a powerful difference in the lives of students. They believe that administrators care sincerely about their success. Parents believe that educators have their children s best interests at heart. They feel welcome at school and they believe that educators appreciate whatever small or large contributions they make to their child s education.

14 Improving Climate: Issues That Make This Difficult? People are not likely to extend effort if they perceive they are not valued. People don t engage or stay engaged with people they don t trust. They are not likely to engage if they believe that the organization does not have their best interest at heart. People do not engage fully if they believe they are unlikely to succeed. Hope is essential. People do not engage fully if they don t perceive the goals are worth their effort. Strong productive climates do not result from mandates or compliance behavior.

15 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain A Great Climate? 1. Leaders make everyone feel valued, respected, and appreciated. Students, parents, teachers, and support staff know they are valued. Leaders collect information that helps them know how to improve relational issues. They identify and resolve issues promptly and professionally. They evidence great integrity and sincerity.

16 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain A Great Climate? 2. Leaders value improvement and growth. People feel like they can take risks and try to improve because they know their efforts will be appreciated and supported. Leaders ensure that professional development is not an event, it is a culture that pervades the school. People are constantly learning to improve their craft.

17 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain A Great Climate? 3. Leaders keep conversations constructive. Leaders refuse to be passive when others choose to be negative. Respectfully, but clearly, administrators and teacher leaders speak out when others claim that goals are unattainable. Leaders use research and data to focus on opportunities to improve, not on reasons to blame.

18 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain A Great Climate? 4. Leaders keep attention focused on the impact of everyday efforts on students. Communication frequently, consistently, and in multiple formats conveys the impact of everyday school actions on student lives.

19 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain A Great Climate? 5. Leaders promote ambitious goals that generate enthusiasm and build a sense of mission. Leaders push beyond compliance and encourage everyone to embrace goals that will make a difference in students lives. People commit to goals they see as worth their effort.

20 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain A Great Climate? 6. Leaders build hope. Leaders give students, parents, teachers, and support staff reasons to believe that their efforts are worthwhile. College and careers are constant topics of focus. Policies are designed/implemented to nurture, sustain, and rekindle hope.

21 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain A Great Climate? 7. Leaders celebrate progress frequently. Frequently, leaders celebrate improvements (both formally and informally). They find elements of success worth celebrating in results others see as failure. They are skillful at acknowledging everyone who contributed to successes.

22 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain A Great Climate? 8. Leaders build leaders. Leaders create platforms for the leadership of many others who want to influence school improvement. Leaders distribute leadership opportunities in ways that build the capacity of individuals to contribute to the school s success.

23 How Can School Boards Help? Model leadership that builds strong climates. Insist upon data collection efforts that include measures of school climate. Use these data in assessing improvement efforts. Promote training opportunities for school and district leaders that emphasize the leader s role in improving climate. Give special attention to improvement and growth. Maximize attention to the teams of individuals who generate growth. Carefully scrutinize and modify policies that might lead students, parents, and teachers to give up.

24 Characteristic #2: Top-performing schools have challenging, meaningful, focused curricula

25 The Curriculum in Top- Performing Schools Instructional objectives are focused toward high levels of mastery. Students are expected to be able to apply, discuss, debate, analyze, and explain the concepts and skills they are asked to learn. Learning is deep and meaningful. Teachers are more focused upon generating mastery than they are focused upon complying with a pacing chart or a teacher s manual. Often they cover fewer objectives; however, students are much more likely to master the objectives taught. Students receive a rich, balanced curriculum. Art, music, physical education, and other non-tested subjects make learning more interesting and enjoyable.

26 Improving Curriculum: Issues That Make This Difficult Many leaders believe that covering all of the standards is essential. Teachers are reluctant to focus on mastery when they perceive they must be accountable for coverage. Some teachers may not know the content well enough to teach it to a great depth of understanding. Often teachers are encouraged to rely upon textbooks that are designed to promote coverage, versus mastery of concepts.

27 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain Strong Curricula? 1. Leaders help educators focus on key academic content. Leaders encourage teachers to teach a few concepts to mastery rather than cover everything. Leaders encourage educators to increase rigor and depth. They engage teachers in using assessment data to identify critical content.

28 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain Strong Curricula? 2. Leaders structure opportunities for teachers to learn content to greater levels of depth. Leaders create opportunities for teachers to work with each other to learn more about critical content. These opportunities are not structured to promote blame or shame. Instead, these opportunities provide a collegial way to build upon strengths and deepen levels of content understanding.

29 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain Strong Curricula? 3. Leaders engage teachers in designing and implementing assessments that provide concrete, common understandings of the levels of mastery students should attain. Common assessments drive attention to deeper levels of understanding. By engaging in assessment design, teachers gain perspective on the levels of understanding students must acquire.

30 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain Strong Curricula? 4. Leaders measure and communicate progress toward goals regularly. Goals become real as baseline measures and regular measurements of progress are collected, posted, discussed, disaggregated, acted upon, and celebrated promptly and regularly. Leaders make data accessible and actionable.

31 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain Strong Curricula? 5. Educators help parents and students know which key learning objectives students need to master. Parents and students feel empowered when educators regularly share information about the key learning objectives to be taught and strategies they can use to enhance learning.

32 How Can School Boards Help? Seek evidence that pacing guides are helping generate deep levels of mastery of key skills. Encourage the development and use of formative assessments that report the mastery of specific key concepts and skills. Resist the temptation to eliminate non-tested subjects. Instead, encourage cross-curricular integration. Encourage administrators to structure teacher collaboration in ways that build content expertise.

33 Characteristic #3: In top-performing schools, instruction is focused upon generating student mastery

34 Instruction in Top-Performing Schools There s no chicken feeding. Teachers focus on getting all students to master key objectives. Frequently, teachers check to ensure student understanding. Teachers introduce content clearly, concisely, & logically. Teachers make key instructional vocabulary part of the spoken vocabulary of their students. Instruction is designed to connect with students interests, backgrounds, cultures, and prior knowledge. Teachers promote practice that is likely to be worthwhile. Teachers make students feel valued and successful. Quality instruction leads students to love learning.

35 Improving Instructional Effectiveness: Issues That Make This Difficult Many teachers have never seen others teach in ways that lead to all students achieving mastery. Most principals visit classrooms rarely because of the other responsibilities that consume their time. In classroom observations, most principals give limited attention to student mastery. Instead, they focus on whether or not teachers demonstrate isolated teaching processes. Many teachers feel the pressure to improve, but they don t have specific assistance that helps them respond constructively. Teacher collaboration is often not focused on the practices that influence instructional effectiveness; however, teacher collaboration can be the most powerful tool for helping teachers improve their practice.

36 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain Instructional Effectiveness? 1. Leaders pay close attention to instructional quality. Leaders visit classrooms frequently to gauge student learning. They constantly seek evidence that students are learning what their teachers are teaching. Regularly, leaders share this evidence in ways that build the capacity of teachers from day to day, creating a culture of professional growth.

37 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain Instructional Effectiveness? 2. Leaders help educators support each other in learning how to teach students more effectively and efficiently. Leaders provide time and support in a manner that helps educators learn that one of their primary roles is to support the ongoing learning of their colleagues.

38 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain Instructional Effectiveness? 3. Leaders help everyone remember that learning should be interesting and exciting. Leaders help educators teach in ways that students like to learn. They encourage teachers to build upon students interests, backgrounds, cultures, and prior knowledge. They help educators consider how they can make learning enjoyable.

39 How Do Top Schools Build and Sustain Instructional Effectiveness? 4. Improvement is rewarded. Lack of improvement is not. Lack of effort is not tolerated. Leaders communicate their passion to transform relationships, teaching, and learning through their actions. They reward improvement efforts and they make clear that a lack of effort is unacceptable.

40 How Can School Boards Help? Insist upon data collection efforts that include measures of instructional effectiveness. Ensure that school administrators can reasonably spend 40 to 60 percent of the school day in classrooms. Reconsider processes for evaluating school leaders to emphasize their role in improving instructional effectiveness. Encourage professional development that helps teachers minimize the use of worksheets and busy work and maximize student engagement in powerful learning activities.

41 Our systems are perfectly structured to achieve the results we are currently achieving. W. Edward Deming

42 Equity and Excellence Are Attainable! You can help make any school a highperforming school for all students. It is not easy! Often, changes take two to four years before they bear substantial results. Nonetheless, mortals prove that it can be done. The well being of our society depends upon our ability to create many more high-performing schools. Our students deserve nothing less.

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