Successful education reform efforts must be implemented through creative leadership and the support of parents and members of the broader community. School leaders must receive the resources, training and moral support they need to help their students achieve academic success and invest all stakeholders in a common vision.
Strong schools need strong leaders. To help all children achieve their full academic potential, effective education reform proposals must provide school leaders at all levels with opportunities to learn the newest techniques to handle the complexities of running large institutions, especially in schools with students who face economic challenges. In addition, school leaders need the support of policymakers, school board members, teachers, parents, and the broader community to encourage them to take the necessary risks to develop effective new programs and strategies.
As an outgrowth of its national program, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) created the KIPP Foundation to give aspiring educational leaders the "freedom, facility, and funding" to open and run KIPP schools. The program’s design is based on the notion that the principals who run KIPP schools must function not only as experienced educators, but as CEOs of their own non-profit organizations. In addition to helping its leaders secure appropriate school facilities and loans, the Foundation offers a year-long program with extensive coursework at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business as well as hands-on residencies at KIPP Schools and mentoring by other KIPP leaders. As an added benefit, the emphasis on leadership is passed on to KIPP students through leadership summits and other activities.
In any community, high-performing schools must have good teachers; teachers who are highly trained professionals able to speak directly to the diverse interests, backgrounds, and learning styles of their students. To engage children in the most cutting-edge innovations, teachers must also be supported by comprehensive range of professional development opportunities and a work environment that supports a dynamic culture of collaboration. Moreover, instead of viewing professional development opportunities as a reward for the highest performing teachers, good policy must ensure that all teachers, especially in the rapidly changing fields of math, science, and technology, have the supports they need to increase their knowledge base, expand their career opportunities, and most important, inspire the students who need them most.
Through a unique approach designed to "engage teachers to engage students," the Institute for the Development of Education in Advanced Sciences (IDEAS) at Hofstra University supports science education by helping teachers to foster an everyday appreciation of science in the classroom. With an emphasis on experiential learning - teaching that relates scientific principles to the world outside of school - IDEAS seeks to promote student achievement in science as well as a long-term commitment to stay in school.
By assembling a lively intellectual community, advanced teaching workshops, and other professional development resources, IDEAS allows teachers to study their own teaching methods to maximize their impact. Through a comprehensive range of programs, IDEAS builds on its partnerships with state- and federally-funded programs to enhance the development of K-12 science teachers in poor and traditionally underserved minority communities. IDEAS also provides teachers with the chance to connect with Hofstra’s nationally-recognized researchers in the sciences, computer sciences, engineering, and education fields.
The Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE) is an organization dedicated to deepening teachers’ substantive knowledge in science and related fields. In addition to its efforts to improve science achievement in poor and minority communities, MISE offers a range of professional development programs for district teachers, curriculum directors, and administrators. Peer Teacher Workshops, the Leader Teacher Institute, the Principals’ Institute, study groups, and the Merck Fellows Program are all designed to create a well-resourced, peer-led science community in the schools MISE serves. Recognizing that teachers require more than intellectual capital, MISE provides free books, periodicals, videotapes, and an array of other scientific learning materials. It has also established several comprehensive science resource centers that provide access to hundreds of curriculum modules and other hands-on materials to supplement classroom teaching.
Engaging parents and the broader community in educational success for all students is an essential starting point for successful education policies. Unless there is a well-defined and consistent expectation of academic success at school, at home, and in the community, students cannot achieve their academic goals and community support for public schools will continue to erode. For schools to succeed, they must find new and compelling strategies to reach out to parents and develop common goals and expectations for their children’s academic futures.
The Comer School Development Program helps students achieve academic success by building strong relationships among all school stakeholders. As an integral part of its leadership structure, Comer Schools rely on a planning and management team composed of parents, school administrators, teachers, and support staff to monitor student progress, recommend modifications in the curriculum, and respond to changing student needs. In this way, the program is grounded in the notion that all the adults who are important to children, especially parents, must recognize and accept their vital role in encouraging academic success.
In Ohio, the state’s Schools of Promise have been uniformly successful in encouraging parents to share both the responsibility and credit for their children’s academic achievement. These high-performing schools have "figured out a way to connect deeply with parents," explains former program director Dr. Joseph Johnson. "In some ways, they have created hope for parents where perhaps there wasn’t hope before." These meaningful connections with parents require school leaders to develop a culture that consistently promotes a positive connection between school and the entire family - inside the classroom and beyond.
In addition to successful parental engagement, schools must find new and effective ways to educate and invest the broader community in school reform efforts. When the San Jose Unified School District considered raising its academic standards, the district began its reform process by appealing to the public through community forums, stakeholder focus groups, and formal surveys. "In order to implement these reforms, every system in the organization had to be aligned around the common goal of getting all kids ready for college," explains Linda Murray, SJUSD’s former Superintendent. "We needed to make sure that our stakeholders were with us before making such a bold move."
A well-designed public engagement strategy also played a vital role in the effort to determine the cost of an adequate education for every student in New York. To ensure public input into the methodology, goals and outcome of the study, researchers devoted the initial stages of the project to a series of public engagement meetings that gathered educators, taxpayer representatives, parents, legislators, and other stakeholders to share their views on how to achieve "adequacy" in the New York public schools. "The open public engagement meetings were a key part of our research," says Dr. Jay Chambers, the AIR Senior Research Fellow who directed the study. "The reality is that determining adequacy is a technical and political process and maintaining public transparency is an important part of that."
Community mentoring programs are another way to build community commitment to schools, and do so while both teaching academics and demonstrating to children that adults value them and their education. Higher Achievement recruits hundreds of professionals from the Washington area to serve as mentors for their students. Higher Achievement mentors are trained to teach a unique and rigorous academic curriculum in either math, literature, or technology and commit one evening per week for the entire school year to serve as mentors and teachers for a small group of students - usually three or fewer.