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What makes a great school?

The NY Times published a fantastic article on the Union City Public School District last weekend. You can read it here. The article discussed the potential for UC schools to be a model for improving underachieving school districts around the country.

Most salient was this statement: What makes Union City remarkable is, paradoxically, the absence of pizazz. It hasn’t followed the herd by closing “underperforming” schools or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools.”

Many of us here at Sibme would not be in education were it not for Teach for America and charter schools, so we’re forever grateful for that opportunity. Still, while we don’t pretend to know they right way to fix education in this country, we do have our reservations about a lot of the “pizazz” the writer refers to.

If there’s anything to take away from this article, it’s this: great improvements don’t occur overnight. Turning around failing schools and districts is more than just a few fresh coats of paint and modest percentile gains on test scores. It’s about investing heavily in staff, students, and parents. It’s about rebuilding the physical bricks of the school building as much as it’s about rebuilding the bricks of the social, emotional, and professional culture.

As we’ve said many times on this blog and throughout our site, we believe teaching to be a craft that requires years and years of practice to perfect. One simple start: make it a priority at your school to give teachers time to plan and collaborate. I mean really do it. Trim the fat off the meetings, and ensure that teachers at every level have sufficient time to do their work, and help them use that time efficiently. We have some simple ideas for how to do that.


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