CHAIRMAN’S MESSAGE: SCHOOLS SUCCEEDING WITH POOR & MINORITY STUDENTS


I hope we can all get together and work to make the Cheltenham Schools an example of a Successful School District. 

My comments below will bring good news, bad news and a challenge.

First the good news.  In her books, Karin Chenoweth, documents numbers of schools where populations that are expected to fail, are succeeding.  In Schools That Succeed she describes how four schools with large poor and minority populations are succeeding at a high level on the state tests of educational standards.

In How It’s Being Done, she documents 10 additional schools with large poor and minority populations that are succeeding.  That is, a high percentage of the students are scoring proficient and advanced and few are at below basic.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is there are a number of schools with poor and minority populations that are producing students who score very well on the state test of standards.  That’s right.  Read it again.  Why is it bad news?

It is bad news because it makes a lie of the stereotype that poor and minority students can’t learn and demonstrate mastery of the state standards on such tests as the PSSA and Keystone Tests.  Schools that use the poor and minority demographics factor as a rational or excuse for failure, can no longer hide behind the kids.

Damn it.

Why isn’t Cheltenham one of the successful schools?

That is the challenge.  No excuses about demographics and it takes time and a slew of other excuses by the professional educators.  The challenge is to get it done.  The way is there for the taking.

This will require an acknowledgement by all concerned that the failure is in our system, not the kids.

System is a key word.

A school district is a system and there is a science concerning how systems work and fail.

A few generalizations.

A system must have a well defined goal with all parts of the system working to achieve the goal.

Does the Cheltenham SD have a well define goal?

These successful schools defined one of their goals to be every child scoring at least proficient on the test of the state standards; and curriculum and instruction flow from that goal.  Mastering each state standard is taken very seriously every day.

Students are part of the system.  If they don’t buy into the goal the system is doomed to fail.

What encourages them to buy in.  Success on the standardized test, which correlates with having learned the state standards from the curriculum, opens the door to college and an opportunity to earn a good living.   Be it a 2 or 4 year college, being prepared for post high school education is a gateway to a financially secure life.   The school environment, in every grade, fosters this message and instruction comes from teachers who care about the success of each child. The focus is on the individual child as opposed to the total class.  

On a daily basis, each child works on the assignments because he/she trusts their caring teacher knows how to help the child succeed and the assignment is geared toward learning a specific state standard. The child can enjoy the satisfaction of achieving short term goals.

Each teacher cares if the child succeeds and provides support during and after school.  Once our teachers learn the challenge is doable, many positive changes can be expected to occur. Absenteeism and discipline problems should decline tremendously.

Instruction is data driven.  Each child’s status on the state standard being taught is monitored daily by the teacher and frequently by a team of teachers and administration.  Support, not criticism, is provided with the idea of working at a skill until success is achieved.

So, instruction has a specific objective that the student can meet and the student is aware of the goal.  This provides purpose and motivation when the objective of instruction is student learning, not grading.  Learning will result in good grades.  Lack of success is a starting point not a finish line. Consider what a transformative shift in teaching approach this will produce.

As I predicted above, accepting the system’s goals reduces absenteeism and discipline problems.  For a teacher to be absent means a day of instruction is lost.  To a caring professional teacher, that is too big a cost for taking a day off.  For each student, the environment is one of caring and success, moving from here to there, there is no failure.  Why act out and be disruptive?

This is not a detailed plan.  It is a challenge to the superintendent, the principals and the teachers to make their schools work so our students have the skills and knowledge to succeed in post high school educational opportunities.   

Too many schools are succeeding.  Taking on the challenge of making Cheltenham’s schools successful by turning out well educated students who score at the proficient or advanced levels should be accepted knowing it is being done every day in schools all over the country.  It is not an impossible task as we have been led to believe.

As a start, I urge the reading of the two books noted above. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

-Myron Goldman

Comments

  1. Elaine Rosenstein says

    Thank u for sharing ur expertise and experience as a professional !
    Hopefully, the new Superintendent will consider ur recommendations.

  2. John Fruncillo says

    Excellent outline of the issues and some solutions to the lack of success in the Cheltenham schools. The only other missing piece is to get the parents to buy in to the system.

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