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In the 2007 EdWeek live chat, "Academic Success in Unexpected Schools," many questions directed at featured guest Principal Barbara Adderley pleaded for the secret to turning around a troubled school. After all, Principal Adderley had done it for her Philadelphia elementary - surely she could articulate a cure that could be replicated across America's schools. While Ms. Adderley offered sage advice, she cautioned that she didn't have a "silver bullet" remedy. But in fact Ms. Adderley is the silver bullet. She is a proficient administrator.
Can an Administrator Learn to Become Proficient?
Efficacy Institute president Dr. Jeff Howard defines administrator proficiency as "the demonstrated capacity to advance the proficiency of other adults in a school/community." Those other adults, in turn, are proficient to the degree that they can move their students to proficiency. Proficient administrators, therefore, move the adults who move the children to proficiency. So if your children aren't proficient...
But let's be clear: When we talk about proficient administrators, we're not talking about superhuman leaders with extraordinary powers. In fact we believe that committed principals in our schools can learn to become proficient - can start acquiring the knowledge and skills required to move under-performing schools to remarkably improved results today. Proficiency, among students, teachers, and administrators, can be achieved through bedrock belief in the capacity of students (and teachers) to learn at high standards, committed student (and teacher) effort, close attention to feedback from student assessments, and continual formulation and reformulation of effective instructional strategies.
In the case of administrators, these effective strategies have long been understood. Ron Edmonds, all the way back in the early 80s, wrote that he had "never yet found an effective school that did not have a strong instructional leader as a principal," and furthermore that "effective schools share essential characteristics." Based on his research of school achievement data, Mr. Edmonds developed seven correlates shared by effective schools and their leaders. More recently, in the 2002 report, "They Have Overcome: High-Poverty, High-Performing Schools in California," the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (PRI) offers detailed case studies of several effective schools. This report confirms Mr. Edmonds' earlier findings that principals who lead effective schools share similar practices. Here is a summary of the practices detailed in the PRI report:
- A no-excuses approach that holds all children to high standards of performance
- High expectations that children can actually achieve at those standards
- Curriculum that is proven to move students to state-aligned standards
- Direct instruction practices where teachers are crystal clear on what they were teaching students, and why
- Frequent assessments as diagnostic tools
- A focus on professional development for teachers
Can This Really Work?
Skeptical that something so straightforward could work in your school? Read about the radical turnaround of Compton's Bunche Elementary in the December FNO. Bunche Principal Mikara Solomon-Davis, as it turns out, was mentored by Nancy Ichinaga, one of the principals highlighted in the PRI study. Randy Ross, in his recent EdWeek article, "Is School Success Transferable?" traces the link between these two principals to answer the question in his title. And the answer is yes - administrator proficiency can be understood, taught by someone who has achieved it, and learned by someone who wants to rise to it.
The answer to all of our problems is proficient adults. Any positive future for public education must be built upon the work of proficient administrators and teachers. Their proficiency is defined by the proficiency of their children. In other words: Administrator Proficiency leads to Adult Proficiency, which results in Proficiency for All Children. This simple equation has been proven to work. So the question is no longer: Can urban schools achieve results? The question is: Will we decide to?
Administrator Proficiency is the theme for this month's From Now On, and we hope you'll watch our short, inaugural YouTube video on the subject.
Thanks to Marshall Memo #219 for the reference to Randy Ross' EdWeek article.
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