“A school system can improve from any starting point and can become significantly more effective within six years.” How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better (Mourshed, Chijioke, Barber, 2010)
The evolution of school improvement began as a compliance plan that sat in a dusty binder on a shelf and has moved towards a comprehensive process that guides schools towards success and increases in student achievement. While the focus of school improvement has been on the design and implementation of the plan, it is most important to consider the improvement of school systems that can support high quality implementation of the plan.
A Systems Approach to School Improvement
School systems can improve from any performance level: from poor to fair and from good to excellent. Researchers Mona Mourshed, Chinezi Chijioke, and Michael Barber were determined to find out how this transformation of school systems was possible in their work, How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better (2010). Studying twenty systems from around the world, with over 200 interviews and 600 interventions, the researchers identified the key elements in how school systems can make improvements:
- A system can make significant gains from wherever it starts in six years or less.
- There is too little focus on ‘process’ in the debate today.
- Each particular stage of the school system improvement journey is associated with a unique set of interventions.
- A system’s context might not determine what needs to be done, but it does determine how it is done.
- Six interventions occur equally at every performance stage for all systems.
- Systems further along the journey sustain improvement by balancing school autonomy with consistent teaching practice.
- Leaders take advantage of changed circumstances to ignite reforms.
- Leadership community is essential.
At the center of any school system is student achievement and student learning. In order to increase student achievement at the building level, it takes an improvement in the school system, which often includes making a shift in mindset, a re-evaluation of values and beliefs, and a change from how business has been done in the past.
Impactful leadership, systemic use of multiple measures of data, responsive and coherent reinforcement and direction from central office, an intensive student support network, and exemplary instruction of a rigorous standards-based curriculum need to work in tandem to influence the school system. Each of these elements needs to be designed, implemented, and monitored in an intentional way in order for student achievement to increase. The lack of a coordinated effort from all stakeholders within the system could result in a lack of cohesion and a waste of efforts.
The Kent ISD School Improvement Team is committed to advancing leadership capacity to collaboratively create, communicate and sustain the system of supports for the alignment and implementation of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Our belief in continuous improvement applies to not only buildings but to the entire school system.
This post was written by Laura Otten, School Improvement Consultant at Kent ISD and edited by Amanda Walma, Professional Learning Coordinator at Kent ISD.