A few months ago, the research group MDRC, released an important study that examined what happened to students who attended “small” public high schools in New York City. The study showed these students were more likely to graduate than their counterparts at larger schools.
As I noted several weeks ago, the MDRC study gives those of us working to improve America’s schools important insights into what impacts student success. The study also offers confirming evidence that the size of a school is not a cure all.
New York City Public Schools are to be congratulated for not just focusing on the size and structure of their schools, but for also emphasizing what transpires between students and teachers.
New York City’s small schools are more than just “small” – they are great examples of highly effective schools. These schools expect college-ready work from all of their students. They give their teachers the training they need to be their best, and to provide students with as much personalized learning as possible. They collect data from students, teachers and the schools and then use it to drive their decision making.
We believe these are the characteristics of an effective school, no matter if it has 100 students or 1,000.
These lessons, as well as the many meaningful conversations we’ve had with teachers, is what steered us toward our current efforts aimed at giving teachers the tools they need to do their best work every day. That includes clear, consistent standards that are supported by engaging instructional tools and technologies. It includes training that helps teachers better identify their students’ strengths and weaknesses and to adjust their instruction accordingly. And it includes developing new fair and reliable ways to measure teacher performance so we can give them the support they need to excel.
As the MDRC study shows, when all of these efforts come together, inspired results occur. We are seeing this in places like Hillsborough County, Fla., Memphis, Pittsburgh, and Denver. The early results from these districts and others through our Measures of Effective Teaching project show that even small improvements from teachers yield higher student achievement.
Like a good teacher, we’re continually learning and seeking to improve. Our early investments in small schools resulted in valuable information– the most important of which is that what matters most is who’s teaching our children and what’s happening inside their classrooms. It’s only when you take all of the strategies we’ve discussed that you get truly great results for all students.