Can we do better in educating our children?
It's easy to criticize - so here is the first of a series of posts about Schools that have made the kind of changes that change everything. These are changes that any school can make.
Please have a quick look at these stats. You will see that this school has significantly out performed all others in the district. You might think that it draws from a middle class neighborhood. You might think that it is very well equipped.
In fact the Alice Byrne School in Yuma draws 60% of its kids from itinerant Hispanic food workers. 40% of the families are officially "Economically Disadvantaged" (Link to data)
Alice Byrne draws from a tough pool - but look how it delivers compared to other schools that are in the same district. What is going on and can we copy this?
Let me tell you about what you can't see first for what you can't see is the real issue.
At Alice Byrne each child has their own learning plan that is built with all the staff who are connected to that child, the parets and the child. All have a part in this plan. Weekly the staff discuss each child and share what they observe. Alice Byrne has put the child in the centre. The family has been brought in as well. All are focused on one core thing.
Learning to read!
Alice Byrne is exceptionally focused on this reality - by learning to read you can then read to learn. Reading is the key to the kingdom. The school is utterly focused on this ONE strategic point. From that then comes the rest.
Their job has been to help all the kids read well by grade 3. Most of the nice to have has been removed in favour of what has to be learned by Grade 3. They know that the battle has to be won Early!
Engagement has been seen as being key. So the class is split up like a one room school. Never more than 7 kids have the attention of the teacher - as we look at the picture, we see this in practice. Overall class sizes are still conventional.
Another key element is teacher quality. The Principal insists on excellence. Alice Byrne has fewer teachers per school than other less performing schools. Quality and engagement of the teachers is the deciding factor.
Have we missed these factors? That it is all for nought if a child cannot read well by grade 3. That this has to be the focus. That the pathway is ENGAGEMENT. Engagement with the child and her family and with the entire staff.
Let's have a look then at how we used to run a school and see that these ideas are in fact old ideas.
Do you see rows of desks? Look how many kids the teacher is focusing on. There are 8. How many kids does the ABS teacher focus on at any one time? No more than 7. These numbers are important and we will get back to them later (Magic Numbers) 8 is the ideal number of a human group that offers the maximum intimacy, trust and interaction.
If we could look back at the rest of the class at ABS we might see a variant of what is happening in the Harris picture. The other kids are getting on with stuff.
If you want engagement, you can't have it in groups larger than 8 - so you have to design a system so that kids fall into such groups.
In the one room school there are some other hidden similarities. The parents are just down the road and have a vested stake in what is happening in the class room. They have not given up their own part of all of this.
In my next post I will tell you a story of a PEI school where getting the parents back inside is a key feature and where the social aspects of what is going on are now being recognized and acted upon.
But in closing - what happened at Alice Byrne can happen in any school with a good principal and with a board that wants to do better. It does not require more money. It requires focus and effort. ABS draws from the toughest demographics - so ABS shows that even under the most challenging circumstances, this focus can deliver.
How hard is this?