5 Steps to Data-Based School Reform—the Common Sense Way

Are you interested in reforming a school or a district? Let’s go back to basics.

The first step to positive K-12 reform within a school or a district is to find a starting point. Often, data sets are used to determine this. This is great, but what if I told you there was another way? One that could capture the whole picture just a little bit better than data alone?

Here’s how successful school districts can improve with both data and common sense observations:

1. Develop an evaluation plan. This is to measure how effective a reform effort is.
Create performance goals. These goals will come in handy once it’s time to see how well your school or district is doing with the new changes.

2. Evaluate the pros and cons of instructional programs. School reformers need to do this regularly. You also need to realize that standardized tests should only make up a piece of the assessment puzzle, not the entirety. Continuously monitoring the progress the school’s student body makes will allow your task force to make changes to the reform plan when it’s necessary.

3. Put in some checks and balances. Make sure a variety of reformers are making the important decisions.
For instance, superintendents are responsible for making sure that creating and sustaining improvements is done in a way that meets students’ needs. The team leader’s job is to ensure teachers have all of the tools needed to help their students excel in class.

4. Keep everyone accountable. This is something that districts all over the country acknowledge as the key to improving schools. Everyone is expected to perform. To make sure this happens, the school district needs to provide staff and faculty members with high-quality professional development.

5. Keep an eye on your restructuring efforts. Your team should have useful data meant to track progress toward the goals set in step 1. Now it’s time to decide who will collect, analyze, and interpret that data. The best way to avoid bias is to hire an outside consultant—your team will receive more objective feedback about your reform efforts.

On a limited budget? Don’t worry—evaluating the results in-house is still a highly desirable option.

After analyzing the data, your team can then use the results to determine how effective the reform was.

What happens if the reform fails? Don’t worry. School restructuring is a long-term process. Simply build upon the small successes and learn from mistakes. Your team can then come up with new solutions, or fix the old solution to better suit the school’s needs.

If you want permanent improvement, reform has to occur continuously. Even the best schools need to continue to work on their restructuring process.

Is a long-lasting school reform that changes the lifeblood of the school possible? Yes, of course. It may not be easy, but with a tremendous effort, the proper use of resources, and the expertise of professionals, school reform can be wildly successful.

You may have noticed that I do not focus on data in this article. Does that mean it’s not important? No, of course it doesn’t! However, there is a lot more that goes into the bigger picture of smart school reform. Districts should recognize that and work towards solutions that not only make sense on paper, but also in real life.

Is data important? What role do you think it plays in school reform efforts? Don’t forget to leave a comment.

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