Monday, January 2, 2012

What Makes a School Effective?: Part 7

By David Miller Sadker, PhD

Karen R. Zittleman, PhD
McGraw-Hill Higher Education

What Makes a School Effective?Beyond Five Factors

New effective-schools findings offer us insights beyond these original five factors of effective schooling:

•Early start. The concept that there is a particular age for children to begin school needs to be rethought. The earlier schools start working with children, the better children do. High-quality programs during the first three years of life include parent training, special screening services, and appropriate learning opportunities for children. While such programs are rare, those that are in operation have significantly raised IQ points and have enhanced language skills. It is estimated that $1 spent in an early intervention program saves school districts $7 in special programs and services later in life.

•Focus on reading and math. Children not reading at grade level by the end of the first grade face a one-in-eight chance of ever catching up. In math, students who do not master basic concepts find themselves playing catch-up throughout their school years. Effective schools identify and correct such deficiencies early, before student performance deteriorates.

•Smaller schools. Students in small schools learn more, are more likely to pass their courses, are less prone to resort to violence, and are more likely to attend college than those attending large schools. Disadvantaged students in small schools outperform their peers in larger schools, as achievement differences for the rich and poor are less extreme. Many large schools have responded to these findings by reorganizing themselves into smaller units, into schools within schools. Research suggests that small schools are more effective at every educational level, but they may be most important for older students.

•Smaller classes. Although the research on class size is less powerful than the research on school size, studies indicate that smaller classes are associated with increased student learning, especially in the earlier grades. Children in classes of fifteen outperform students in classes of twenty-five, even when the larger classes have a teacher's aide present.

•Increased learning time While not an amazing insight, research tells us what we already suspect: more study results in more learning. Longer school days, longer school years, more efficient use of school time, and more graded homework are all proven methods of enhancing academic learning time and student performance.Assessment. Investing time is useful, but assessing how effectively the time is spent is also important. Testing student performance has been tied to greater achievement, and some districts have gone so far as to pay teachers incentives for improvements in student test scores.

•Teacher training. Researcher Linda Darling-Hammond reports that the best way to improve school effectiveness is by investing in teacher training. Stronger teacher skills and qualifications lead to greater student learning. Conversely, students pay an academic price when they are taught by unqualified and uncertified teachers.

•Trust. Trusting relationships among parents, students, principals and teachers is a necessary ingredient to govern, improve, and reform schools. As trust levels increase, so does academic performance.

•And what about technology? School districts that are hesitant to spend funds on teacher training, class size reductions, or early childhood education programs nevertheless are quick to invest significant sums in computers and upgraded technology. Research says very little about the impact of technology on school effectiveness and student performance. Studies are few, sometimes contradictory, and long-term results are still unknown. It is a sad commentary that the glamour of cyberspace is more persuasive than decades of research.


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