The Bryk et al. research findings are based upon a huge study of more than 400 Chicago public elementary schools, and their results have implications for every school in the country. They (p. 83) describe the key factors they identified as follows:
The leadership composite was defined as the degree to which teachers viewed their principal as an inclusive, facilitative leader, [who was] focused on parent and community involvement and creating a sense of community in the school. It included the following components:
Instructional leadership--degree to which teachers saw their principal as setting high standards and exercising leadership for instructional reform.
Teacher influence--the extent to which teachers were involved in school decision making.
LSC contribution--teachers' ratings of the effectiveness of the local school council.
Program coherence--teacher's judgments as to the quality of implementation and coordination of programs within the school.
SIP implementation--teachers' assessments of the school improvement plan and its centrality to the school's efforts to improve learning.
The parent involvement composite was assessed by:
Teacher outreach to parents and their assessment of their efforts to develop common goals and understandings with parents and to work together to strengthen student learning.
Parent involvement in the school--teachers' reports about how often parents pick up report cards, attend parent-teacher conferences, attend school events, and other activities.
This factor is also referred to by the authors as "Work Orientation." It was a composite of:
Teacher orientation toward innovation--teachers' judgments of the extent to which their colleagues are continually learning, seeking new ideas, and have a "can-do" attitude. (Alex, are you reading this?)
School commitment--teachers' reports of how loyal and committed they are to the school.
Student-Centered Learning Climate
This is also termed the "Safety and Order Composite," and measured by:
Safety--students' perceptions of personal safety inside and outside the school and traveling to and from school
Classroom disruptions--teachers' reports of disruptions due to student behavior and to administrative interruptions.
Instructional Guidance/Curriculum Alignment
This was defined by:
The pace at which new math content was introduced into the school's curriculum across the elementary grades (remember, they didn't study high schools) and how well that aligned with established grade-level skills and knowledge.
Which factors were most important?
(P 83): "...weakness in any of the five core improvement factors ([see above] substantially reduced the probability of improvement... The likelihood of improvement in both reading and mathematics was especially low among schools that were weak in school leadership, parent involvement, teacher work orientation, or curriculum alignment. Only 11% of schools weak on the school leadership indicator (remember, it is a composite of several factors--see above) improved substantially in reading, only 10% weak on the parent involvement indicator improved, and the same was true for just 9% of the schools weak on teacher work orientation. Results were comparable for math improvement... but even more pronounced."
"Schools [rated as] strong in most [factors] were at least ten times more likely than schools weak in most supports to show substantial gains in both reading and math. Half the schools strong in most supports improved substantially in reading. Not a single school weak in most of the supports showed substantial improvements in mathematics. ... As school districts think about ..,strategic planning for school improvement...our evidence [suggests] that districts are highly unlikely to succeed absent attention to all five of these organizational subsystems. We make a similar claim about the efforts of leaders at the...building level as they engage in the day-to-day work of promoting meaningful local change. School community leaders must direct attention to strengthening the ties among school professionals, parents, and the local community and to expanding the professional capacity of the school's faculty. Adults within the school community must join together to foster a student-centered learning climate that promotes pupils' engagement with more challenging academic work... Finally and most important, a coherent school-wide instructional guidance system must scaffold and integrate this collective academic activity. Strong evidence has been presented here that a sustained material weakness in any one of these [five] domains is likely to doom efforts at improving student outcomes. In this sense, each element is an essential ingredient in the overall recipe for school improvement." (P. 96 The authors conclude that the school administration is the most important of the five factors:
"School leadership sits in the first position. It acts as a driver for improvements in the other four organizational subsystems: parent-community ties, professional capacity of the faculty and staff, a student-centered learning climate, and an instructional guidance system. While it has been the practice of many districts ...to concentrate reform efforts on just one or two elements within one or two of these subsystems (for example, improving the quality of teachers or mandating a common instructional program), the evidence...attests that these systems stand in strong interaction with one another. As a consequence of this interactivity, meaningful improvement typically involves orchestrated initiatives across multiple domains." (P. 197)
"Finally, our empirical [research data] results also attest strongly to the centrality of school leadership as a catalyst for change. Efforts to strengthen school-community ties and the professional capacities within a school's faculty demand a dynamic blend of both instructional and inclusive-facilitative leadership. Principals in improving schools encouraged the broad involvement of their staff in reform as they sought to guide and coordinate this activity by means of a coherent vision that integrated the diverse and multiple changes that were co-occurring. The strength of these statistical findings is highly consistent with our own field observations--we know of not even one case of sustained school improvement in Chicago where local [school] leadership remained chronically weak. " (P. 199)
This book should be read by every educator and educational administrator in the United States and taken seriously. The current popularity of teacher-bashing is highly counterproductive. We need cooperation, coolaboration, mutual support, lower anxiety, better training and inservicing, and higher morale. (Higher pay wouldn't hurt!) We have an important job to do, so let's do it--working TOGETHER, and be honest about what is needed.
This is a terrific book. I assign it for undergraduate political science and education majors. It's rich in data and thoughtful analysis, and it incorporates insights from sociology, organizational theory, psychology, and philosophy as well as education. It doesn't present any magic solution for schools in the most-distressed areas, but neither does anyone else-- and the authors are honest and clear-headed about the limits of their findings.
I have spent the last ten years teaching underpriveleged youth in Chicago. Much of "school reform" is done piecemeal and reflets only the priorities of whoever is in vogue rather than imporatant changes to the way schools do business. This book breaks down alot of data that was taken when different schools in Chicago tried a variety of interventions to improve struggling schools. They crunch the numbers and actually come up with a finite set of behaviors and situations that produce real and lasting improvements in struggling schools. Principals, teachers and parents should all check it out and think deeply about the most important characteristics of a great school.
Excellent resource for educators in school systems that struggle with student achievement. Helpful research based on the Consortium on Chicago School Research's (University of Chicago) investigation of Chicago public schools spanning several years and examining one hundred elementary schools. The research explored variables that influence student achievement and proposed reform solutions for schools and educational stakeholders. This research is considered one of the most "groundbreaking studies in urban education".
The research is rigorous and insightful regarding non-academic school improvement measures. It's not a beach read, but I learned a lot and the integrity of the University of Chicago is never a question, making this a worthwhile read.
This book is extremely informative, with a great look at efforts to improve schools in Chicago. Importantly, it describes what was learned and what can inform school improvement efforts in other places. It is also readable. I have gone back to this book several times.