National Center for Urban School Transformation
What is Atypical about Schools that
Achieve Atypical Results?
Joseph F. Johnson, Jr., Ph.D.
Executive Director
National Center for Urban School Transformation
FASFEPA/ECTAC Conference
February 22, 2008
http://www.ncust.org
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National Center for Urban School Transformation
Dedicated to identifying, studying, and promoting the
best practices of America’s highest achieving urban
schools in a manner that supports urban districts in
transforming teaching and learning
http://www.ncust.org
3rd Annual Symposium: May 8th & 9th, 2008 in San Diego
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Typical Schools Get Some Students to
Achieve Challenging Standards
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Students from affluent families
Students who speak English at home
Students with parents who have high
levels of education
Students who are White
Students who do not have disabilities
Students whose families rarely move
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Often However, Typical Schools Have
Difficulty Ensuring the Success of:
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Students from low-income families
Students who speak languages other than
English at home
Students whose parents have little education
Students who are Black or Latino
Students with disabilities
Students from highly mobile families
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Most Title I Schools That:
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Use typical programs
Provide typical instruction
Teach typical curricula, and
Relate to students and parents in typical
ways
Achieve Typical Results!
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NCUST Studies Schools that
Achieve Atypical Results
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Majority of students meet low-income criteria, no selective
admissions criteria, and in an urban district; yet:
Higher achievement than state average and higher than 90
percent of similar schools
Small or no achievement gaps
Exceed AYP criteria for at least two years
Low suspension/expulsion rates
High attendance rates
High graduation rates
No disproportionate racial/ethnic enrollments in gifted or
special education
Other evidence of high achievement
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Recent NCUST Award Winners
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Community Day Charter, Lawrence, MA (2006)
Ginter Park Elementary, Richmond, VA (2006)
Linwood Elementary, Oklahoma City, OK (2006)
Muller Elementary, Hillsborough County, FL (2006)
Whittier Primary School, Peoria, IL (2006)
Cecil Park Elementary, Mt. Vernon, NY (2007)
Columbus Alt. High School, Columbus, OH (2007)
Detroit Edison Academy, Detroit, MI (2007)
Edison Elementary, Long Beach, CA (2007)
Gideons Elementary, Atlanta, GA (2007)
Pillow Elementary, Austin, TX (2007)
Rancho Cucamonga Middle, Cucamonga, CA (2007)
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Gideons Elementary School
Atlanta, GA
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Enrollment: 550
96% African American
88% Low-Income
96% proficient in reading/language arts
94% proficient in mathematics
48% EXCEED state standards in
reading/language arts
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Cecil H. Parker Elementary
Mount Vernon, New York
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Enrollment: 450
99% African American
78% Low-Income
91% proficient in reading (increased from
27% to 91% over six years)
96% proficient in mathematics
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Thomas Edison Elementary
Long Beach, CA
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Enrollment: 1,000
95% Latino
88% Low-Income
808 Academic Performance Index (state
target is 800)
802 Academic Performance Index for
English learners
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Columbus Alternative High School
Columbus, OH
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Enrollment: 611
Grades 9-12
60% African American
59% low-income
97% proficient in reading
95% proficient in mathematics
82% proficient in science
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2008 Finalists
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From Bakersfield, Birmingham, Cleveland,
El Paso, Ft. Lauderdale, Houston, Long
Beach, Miami, Newark, Norfolk,
Philadelphia, Richmond, Sacramento
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13 elementary schools
4 middle schools
3 high schools
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Schools that Achieve Atypical
Results Do So:
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Not by accident
Not simply by hard work
Not by gaming the system
They develop programs, systems, and
structures that are resulting in atypical -
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Curricula (rigor)
Instruction (relevance)
School cultures (relationships)
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Every High-Performing School is
Different
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There is no simple formula
There is no checklist
Their strengths vary, but they generally
include characteristics that are atypical for
Title I schools (particularly related to
curriculum, instruction, and/or school
culture)
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What is Atypical About Curriculum
and Instruction in High-Performing
Title I Schools?
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Most Title I Schools with Atypical
Results Don’t Try to Teach Everything
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Many Title I schools have used curriculum alignment
processes and pacing charts to ensure that all
standards are covered well.
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In contrast, many high-performing schools reduce the
number of objectives that are the focus of instruction.
Educators identify critical standards and focus
attention on teaching them well.
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Most Title I Schools with Atypical
Results Don’t Try to Teach Everything
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Schools with atypical results establish objective ways
to determine that students have learned key concepts
to a level that is at least as rigorous as required by
their state assessment.
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By ensuring that students are learning the most critical
standards well, educators reduce the amount of “driveby” teaching and help students develop a depth of
understanding. Educators feel a greater sense of
efficacy when they aren’t pressed to “cover” so much.
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Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results
Have Timely Systems of Support
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Many Title I schools have few systematic ways of
identifying students who need extra assistance in a
timely manner. Even fewer have structured systems
that have a high likelihood of providing tailored
assistance promptly and effectively.
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In contrast, in high-performing schools, systems
guarantee that student learning needs are identified
promptly. As well, systems have been structured to
ensure that identified needs will be addressed in a
timely, effective manner.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Teachers Constantly Adapt Instruction
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In typical schools, teachers acquire little feedback to
gauge student understanding of the content of
instruction. Even when feedback suggests that
students do not understand, teachers typically
proceed with the lesson as designed.
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In contrast, teachers in high-performing schools are
more likely to seek considerable student feedback
during each lesson, especially from students with
greater needs.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Teachers Constantly Adapt Instruction
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In response to the feedback they receive, teachers
adapt methods, examples, and strategies frequently.
They modify teaching techniques in ways that are
more likely to build upon the backgrounds, prior
knowledge, cultures, and interests of students. They
make learning exciting for students.
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No chicken feeding!
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Teaching Cycle in Atypical Schools
Present
Adapt
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Notice
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Leaders Promote Instructional Improvement
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In typical Title I schools, principals spend most of their
time involved in paperwork, meetings, discipline, and
other “in office” activities. Little time is left to spend in
classrooms.
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In most high-performing schools, principals are in
classrooms 40% or more of the school day. Teachers
see that good instruction is valued and expected.
Leaders constantly seek opportunities to support
teachers by acknowledging good instruction and by
helping teachers consider ways to make instruction
more effective.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Collaboration Leads to Better Instruction
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In many Title I schools, collaboration time has become
fashionable. “Professional learning communities” and
other group structures are common; however, they
often do not lead to improvements in teaching.
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In most high-performing Title I schools, collaboration
time is devoted to solving problems related to
improving student learning. Teachers and school
leaders come together with an impressive openness to
change. They openly share student work and invite
each other to critique their teaching. They share their
best ideas and build upon each other’s strengths.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Professional Development is Focused
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In many Title I schools, random acts of professional
development are common. Teachers commonly
spend time learning about a variety of topics. Rarely
are teachers able to answer the question, “What are
you doing differently now because of the professional
development you received?”
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In most high-performing Title I schools, professional
development has a clear focus over an extended
period of time. Systems are structured to work toward
mastery in classroom implementation before moving
to the next initiative.
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What is Atypical about the Culture
of High-Performing Title I Schools?
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Everyone is Goal Driven
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Almost all Title I schools have goals, but usually the
goals exist to satisfy a requirement for goals. Often,
there are many goals on paper, but no goals that
influence the daily work of teachers, parents, and
students. Sometimes, goals are framed around
issues that have little meaning to teachers.
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In high-performing schools, goals generate
enthusiasm. There are school goals, grade level
goals, department goals, classroom goals, and
student goals. Often, people are focused upon only
one or two goals at a time. There is excitement as
people work together to achieve important goals.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Everyone is Goal Driven
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In high-performing schools, leaders make goals real
by identifying baselines (for all groups) and charting
progress regularly.
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In these schools, leaders find many ways to identify
and celebrate small positive steps toward the
attainment of goals. Celebration is part of the culture
of the school. As a result, teachers come to believe
in their capacity to teach, parents come to believe in
their capacity to assist, and students come to believe
in their capacity to learn and excel.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
School is Fun!
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In many typical Title I schools, leaders have squeezed
art, music, drama, physical education and other
elective pursuits out of the curriculum. Test prep
activities dominate.
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In contrast, in high-performing schools students are
excited about coming to school to participate in a rich,
well-rounded curriculum. In many cases, teachers
have integrated core academic content into elective
pursuits.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
School is Fun!
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High-performing Title I schools engage in test prep
activities; however, they do not dominate the school
day or the school year.
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In the highest performing schools, teachers and
leaders understand that often the best “test prep” is
engaging instruction that builds deep understanding of
content and makes students want to learn more.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Students Are Eager to Work Hard
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Educators in many typical Title I schools complain that
students are not “motivated” to work to learn
challenging academic content. Behavior problems
often interfere with instructional efforts.
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In the highest performing schools, students perceive
they are valued and respected by caring educators.
Students are proud of their clean and safe schools
and the challenging content they are learning. They
appreciate the fair implementation of reasonable rules.
They are eager to work hard for their teachers.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Parents Believe Educators Care
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Educators in many typical Title I schools complain that
parents are not involved. Apathy and distrust seem to
underlie most parent/teacher relationships.
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In the highest performing schools, teachers and
parents spend time learning about each other. They
learn that they all have the children’s best interest at
heart. Parents are eager to find ways to support
educators who they perceive as eager to find ways to
support their children. Educators in these schools
give parents new hope for their children’s future.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Parents Learn How to Engage
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Parents in many typical Title I schools perceive that
they do not have the capacity to help their child
succeed in school.
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In the highest performing schools, parents learn about
the specific standards their children need to master.
They learn easy strategies for supporting their child’s
learning at home and at school.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Teachers Feel Well Supported
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Teachers in many typical Title I schools feel overburdened, stressed, and under appreciated.
Attendance rates are often low and turnover rates are
typically high.
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In the highest performing schools, teachers trust that
school leaders care sincerely about them. They
perceive that leaders are providing the attention,
resources, and expertise they need to have a high
likelihood of success. Attendance is high and turnover
is relatively rare.
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In Most Title I Schools with Atypical Results,
Teachers Feel Part of Something Special
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Teachers in many typical Title I schools are “Lone
Rangers.” They work solo in their classrooms and try
to avoid the many adult issues that tend to consume
both time and energy.
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In the highest performing schools, teachers believe
they are part of a team that will make a powerful
difference in children’s lives. Adult issues are resolved
professionally and promptly in a spirit that allows
everyone to maintain dignity. Teachers believe in their
colleagues, in part, because they perceive that their
colleagues believe in them.
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In Title I Schools with Atypical Results, Equity
and Excellence Are Not Dichotomous Goals
Educators in these schools act as if they
believe that:
 Equity without excellence is mediocrity.
 Excellence without equity is an oxymoron.
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The National Center for Urban School Transformation