Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Get Results Using "Best Fit" Solutions

October 31, 2013

Policy makers and leaders can learn from great teachers when it comes to getting successful results. A teacher myself, I have often seen attempts to solve large problems using blanket one-size-fits-all approaches. These approaches, while logical and even efficient, often fall far short of their goals.

Scaling success, like good teaching, is best done through a series of individualized interventions working towards one goal, with built in supports and accountability along the way. If we want to scale successes well, we must be thoughtful, targeted, and understand the situation so the intervention can best fit each circumstance.

 Students who were identified as performing two, three, or even four grade levels below their current grade are now performing at grade level.Our school, Urban Promise Academy (UPA), recently created and piloted an intervention which led to dramatic gains in student achievement. The program, known as the Morning Boost, brings small groups of students who are below proficiency in mathematics or English together for intensive conceptual, targeted, and research based instruction.

This program is working. The math department has seen this group of students consistently out perform their cohort students in growth each year. Students are often jumping two to three proficiency levels in mathematics and English on the California Standardized Test. In other words, students who were identified as performing two, three, or even four grade levels below their current grade are now performing at grade level.

In Oakland Unified, UPA is now one of the highest-ranking schools, performing 2nd in mathematics and 3rd in English. UPA is unique and has received district recognition for advancing students to grade level or above while pulling all students below grade level up to proficiency. 

Scale it up into every school, right? It is not that simple, not a one-size-fits-all solution, not a silver bullet.  We have to change our thinking on what works and what can be done better.

Our goal is to work with other schools who are interested in achieving similar results by sharing lessons learned; helping them craft an intervention tailored to their needs, students, and community. Just like good teaching, we must learn to observe, listen, and collaborate to find solutions that last.

 Following the lead of the effective teacher, we engage all stakeholders, investigate and agree on shared goals, and work to gain an understanding of what the obstacles are to success. Only then can we craft a solution that truly addresses strengths, capacity, and challenges to ensure better results.That said, our school cannot hand over a prepackaged “solution.” Instead we have learned to work collaboratively alongside interested schools and organizations to determine how a program can be tailored to fit their circumstances. We draw on lessons learned in our classrooms on how to get a variety of constituents, all at differing levels with differing interests, to move toward a shared goal, while giving them unique supports to help them get there.

UPA follows a protocol to help other schools identify where they are in relation to their goals, where they want to go and how to get there, laying the foundation for a clear path that everyone can support.

Following the lead of the effective teacher, we engage all stakeholders, investigate and agree on shared goals, and work to gain an understanding of what the obstacles are to success. Only then can we craft a solution that truly addresses strengths, capacity, and challenges to ensure better results.

We realize this approach is challenging, time consuming, and not the fastest way to scale success, however, it works, and in a time where so many well intended attempts to improve education have floundered, our thoughtful, careful, and targeted approach is working to improve teaching and learning across schools. 

A great classroom is a microcosm for how to get great results; let us look to the methods of great teachers as we try to understand scaling success in education. Let us learn to listen closely, share information, and find what works together as we design systems to improve education.

 
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