Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Broad Acres Elementary and the case for Reform

I was recently asked what I thought about Broad Acres Elementary school, an elementary school in Montgomery County with a farms rate exceeding 90% that was faced with the possibility of a state takeover almost 10 years ago.  However, the school went forward with an innovative solution:  union and mcps officials agreed to work together in order to find a workable plan to raise test scores.   In the agreement, all teachers who agreed to stay at the elementary school promised to "officially" work an additional 15 days a year.   The principal and school staff then worked together, often with teachers leading the way, to implement a number of programs and strategies to raise scores.   Two thirds of the teachers agreed to stay on, and another 1/3rd opted out, moving to other schools.   The results have been nothing short of extraordinary.

The Tom Mooney Institute wrote a report describing the turn around at Broad Acres Elementary.  It was all a little too “union congratulatory” for my liking but when it got to the meat of what went on there was a lot of interesting bits.   In particular, I was intrigued by the empowerment of the teachers in the decision making process.   Teachers seemed to over-ride principals.   And I loved the part where teachers were doing walk-troughs in lieu of administrators.  This type of ripe feedback, provided not as a stick or carrot but as a way for intrinsically motivated teachers to learn about and improve their craft is largely missing in the professional growth system currently implemented in Montgomery County. And I don't know all the details- but in the very least there is some anecdotal evidence that the school- by allowing teachers who had the motivation to work more hours and with greater autonomy- could have a substantial impact on their students.

But we also need to consider which  1/3rd of teachers opted out of the school. Was it the most effective teachers who just wanted to teach in a less challenging environment?  Was it the least effective teachers who couldn't stand the thought of working another 15 days a year?   Was it a combination of those and other variables?   My intuition is that this variable had more of an impact than anything that when on inside of the school once this core group of teachers left.   Further, I wonder why this model was not implemented in other schools in Montgomery County.    Yes it is costly, but not near as costly as some of the other programs implemented across the county in budget building years from 2000 to 2008.   Anybody have thoughts?

My skeptical thought- get rid of the least effective teachers in a building- and replace them with just average teachers- and watch real educational reform take place.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Mike--

    I don't know why it's taken me so long to find my way to your blog, but I think we ought to talk sometime.

    Heidi Mordhorst
    K/1 Reading Initiative, Garrett Park
    Global Garden Public Charter School Project