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How to Turn a School System Around

A McKinsey report offers trends used by school systems that are steadily showing improvement.

A report released last week by the management consulting firm McKinsey sheds some insight on how school systems that are seeing signs of or consistent improvement are getting the job done. Rather than recommending—as one might hear when international assessments such as this week's PISA scores were released—to follow the lead of, say, Finland or Singapore, the report instead offers a continuum where a school system would need to locate itself and then work upward from that point.

According to a piece in Education Week, the study, titled "How the World's Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better," looked at close to 600 reforms carried out in 20 school systems of everything from regional charter networks to entire countries:

The researchers found that interventions fell in six different areas: revising curriculum and standards; establishing an appropriate reward and compensation structure for educators; building educators’ technical skills; assessing students; establishing data systems; and implementing laws and policies supporting the interventions. But the way those interventions manifested themselves at each performance stage differed.


An interesting note from the Ed Week piece is that initially low-performing systems that saw improvement relied on standardized test-heavy assessment of students and rigorous evaluations of faculty. When schools were in better situations, testing relaxed and teacher evaluation turned to collaboration.

Obviously, there's a lot of discussion about the report, which was released along with a webcast, but it occurs to me that the message of the report is that a one-size-fits-all No Child Left Behind-type bill isn't going to create massive improvement in the United States. Rather, whereas adopting Common Core Standards and the like can't hurt, city and local school districts will need to tailor options, like merit pay and teacher assessment, to suit their own needs.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user Vincent J. Brown

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