Nine essential components of a successful educational system

April 24, 1991

"One of the really, really important things associated with this agenda that a lot of people don't understand . . . is that if you take one of . . . these nine components away, a lot of people would think that you have eight-ninths of it left. I would argue that you have zero-ninths of it left.

"This is not a menu-driven challenge. It is not a question of stringing together enough individual projects or pilot projects or demonstration projects or categorical programs. It's a question of doing the analysis to determine what set of structural features are so integrated that they will produce the power, synergistically, to move what is the single largest institutional structure in this state or in any other state. It is a huge, monolithic institution, and it's not going to move because you direct it to or because you want it to."

-- David W. Hornbeck, education consultant, former Maryland school superintendent.

In a September, 1990 report, the Business Roundtable recommended the following components for a successful educational system:

1) The new system is committed to four operating assumptions: a) all students -- not some, many or most -- can learn at significantly higher levels; b) the know-how already exists, within some teachers and schools, to teach all students successfully; c) curriculum content must lead to higher-order skills and instructional strategies must be those that work, meaning there should be different strategies for different learning situations; d) every child must have an advocate, either a parent or family member or some mentor that the educational or the broader social-services system must provide.

2) The new system is performance- or outcome-based. Too often, school staffs are asked, "Did you do what you were told?" The right question is, "Did it work?" Trying hard is not enough.

Results must be produced and measured, in manners appropriate to achieving a high-productivity economy and maintaining democratic institutions.

3) Assessment strategies are as strong and rich as the outcomes, for assessment inevitably influences what is taught. We need to re-examine how student performance is assessed, encouraging tests and other assessment strategies that reflect the thoughtful integration of knowledge, an understanding of main ideas and problem solving.

We must abandon types of strategies that simply emphasize recall or recognition.

4) Successful schools are rewarded and schools that fail are penalized. A system built on outcomes must include a system of rewards and penalties.

Our system rarely has such logical incentives and disincentives. For example, a successful school (not individual teachers) would be one in which the proportion of its successful students, including its at-risk students, is increased by a prescribed amount since the previous relevant assessment period. Ranges of rewards and sanctions should provide challenging alternatives that are known beforehand to all parties. The successful should be rewarded; the unsuccessful must be helped more than punished.

5) School-based staff has a major role in making instructional decisions. School-based accountability for outcomes and school-based authority to decide how to achieve those outcomes are intertwined

parts of the same proposition. Meaningful authority could include real involvement in selection of school staff, with instructional staff helping to select the principal, the principal helping to select teachers and both helping to select non-certified personnel.

School-based authority also could include significant budgetary control and authority over curriculum, instructional practices, disciplinary measures, school calendar and student and teacher assignments.

6) Major emphasis is placed on staff development, in at least four areas: a) pre-service training with greater emphasis on subject matter, field experience and effective use of technology; b) alternative certification opportunities for career changers and well-qualified, non-education majors; c) significant research and development capacities to identify schools and instructional practices that work with all children, including a training system that permits staff to participate in this process; d) selection, preparation and upgrading programs for administrators, instructional support staff and other non-teachers to assure leadership and assistance that contribute to improved student achievements.

7) A high-quality, pre-kindergarten program is critical, at least for all disadvantaged 4-year-olds. Although it is not an elixir for all ills, evidence strongly shows such a program can significantly reduce teen pregnancy, poor school performance, criminal arrest rates, dropouts, incidence of student placement in special education programs and other negative and/or costly factors that are far too prevalent among students today.

8) Health and other social services are sufficient to reduce significant barriers to learning.

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