If we want to build effective schools in our communities, we have to look beyond standardized test scores and instead encourage our districts to build a positive culture that meets kids where they are and fosters innovation by teachers to foster the strengths of those students.
That’s a wholly different approach than our current approach, which tragically assumes standardized test scores reflect educational quality. As long as the end result of education is test scores, a lot of our kids are going to be left behind and teachers are going to be scapegoated.
The good news is that we now know the characteristics of schools that are building approaches meeting the needs of diverse students, thanks to the Positive Outlier Study by the Center for Educational Effectiveness.
The study focuses on schools that have been successful in creating an environment that supports students who are Black, Latino, Native American or are experiencing poverty. The study identified 38 schools in the state from rural, suburban and urban districts that are so-called positive outliers in that they have succeeded in creating schools that inspire these student populations.
Several of those schools are found in North Central Washington, including Brewster Middle School and Brewster High School, Bridgeport High School, Grant, Parkway and Columbia River elementary schools in Ephrata and Warden High School. You can see all of the details at effectiveness.org, as well as insightful podcast interviews with leaders who are making a difference.
There is a deep local connection to this project. Dr. Gene Sharratt was one of the authors of the study and Wenatchee native Erich Bolz, a former principal, is the vice president of research and district engagement for the center.
Here are a few of the key attributes of schools that are positive outliers: They create trust and a family-like atmosphere, embrace the strengths of diverse students’ cultures and ethnicities, integrate family-engaged education into K-12 schooling, develop equity leadership teams, empower diverse students to teach others about racism, and eliminate deficit-based vocabulary.
Brewster Middle School and High School were recognized for helping Latino students and students experiencing poverty achieve at a higher level. Superintendent Eric Driessen was interviewed for the podcast, Outliers in Education, hosted by Bolz and Eric Price, about what has worked in that district.
They’ve built greater community engagement with Latino families by thinking creatively. The district has an active parent advisory committee, offers citizenship classes for families and offers parent nights and student-led parent conferences.
One significant effort to create community engagement was the development of a mentoring program called HOSTS — Helping One Student To Succeed. They have engaged senior citizens and local businesses to come in and work with the kids on a one-on-one basis.
They didn’t expect the volunteers to teach kids to read, said Driessen, but encouraged the volunteers to ask comprehensive questions of the students to build student confidence.
What I love about what’s happening at Brewster is they’re actively building a sense of community and at the same time they are exposing kids to caring community members who want them to succeed.
Brewster School District has been successful because they’ve continually evaluated what they are doing to see what’s working and how to better serve students. “Every community is going to be a little different,” he told interviewers Bolz and Price. “I think the only mistake you make is not reaching out and trying those things,” he said.
Legislators in Olympia are never going to create successful schools. We must do that ourselves in our communities. The Center for Educational Effectiveness gives us deep insights into the questions we should be asking.
Parents, school board members, schools, the media and legislators should be building on these successes to develop the kind of schools in our communities that make a difference for all kids.
Let’s encourage our superintendents, school board members and legislators to use this study to create a more effective system and then put our shoulders to the wheel to help them make a difference.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 665-1162.
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