7 Elements All Top Schools Have

Diverse school models exist, but a fundamental question remains—how do we know how effective a school model is? How can effectiveness be judged? There are several research studies which focus on the characteristics of effective schools. However, there is debate over which attributes to consider when describing successful schools.

Some researchers assert that student performance should be the primary indicator of a successful school. That makes sense, since the sole purpose of schools is educating their students. Other researchers propose that students’ social characteristics, such as personal growth, should be included when determining effective schools. Another issue with school effectiveness research is that findings are predominantly based on research conducted in elementary schools or unique school settings in the inner city. These findings might not be generalizable for all schools.

In truth, there is no one factor that can accurately determine the effectiveness of K-12 schools. This is really a multi-faceted conversation that evolves with each generation of students. However, there are some qualities that seem to apply in nearly all school contexts. Here they are:

  1. Quality leadership. In other words, students perform better where the principal provides strong leadership.  Effective leaders are visible, able to successfully convey the school’s goals and visions, collaborate with teachers to enhance their skills, and are involved in the discovery of and solutions to problems
  2. Having high expectations. This applies to students as well as teachers.  High expectations of students have repeatedly been shown to have a positive impact on students’ performance. More attention should be paid to high expectations of teachers. In other words, teachers who are expected to teach at high levels of effectiveness are able to reach the level of expectations, particularly when teacher evaluations and teacher professional development is geared toward improving instructional quality.
  3. Ongoing screening of student performance and developmentSchools should use assessment data to compare their students with others from across the country. Effective use of assessment data allows schools to identify problematic areas of learning at the classroom and school levels, so that solutions can be generated as to how to best address the problems.
  4. Goals and direction.  Administration should actively construct goals and then effectively communicate them to appropriate individuals (i.e., students, teachers, community-at-large).  School principals must also be open and willing to incorporate innovation into goals for school processes and practices. It is important to invite input from all stakeholders in the process of developing school goals. Student performance has been shown to improve in schools where all in the school community work toward goals that are communicated and shared among all in the learning environment.
  5. A secure and organized school. More learning happens when students feel secure.  Respect is promoted and is a fundamental aspect of a safe school.  There are also a number of trained staff and programs, such as social workers, who work with problem students before situations get out of hand.
  6. A smaller school. Research has found that the smaller the school, the better students perform, especially in the case of older students.  This is the rationale behind the concept of schools-within-schools. Students in smaller learning environments feel more connected to their peers and teachers, pass classes more often, and have a higher probability of going to college.
  7. Preschool education. A number of school districts view preschool education as a factor that will influence overall effectiveness across all schools located within the district. Evidence suggests that children with preschool experiences fare better academically and socially as they enter kindergarten and beyond. Experiences in literacy and numeracy among early learners not only prepares preschoolers for a kindergarten curriculum that has heightened expectations of prior knowledge, but also helps identify early learners who will need additional support to ensure they are able to have positive learning experiences later on.

Of course, we are not limited to these factors. Additional factors that influence effective schools include time to learn, teacher quality, and school and parental trust. There is no simple solution for labeling the effectiveness of a particular school – but it should certainly go beyond assessments alone.

What are some keys to school effectiveness in your opinion?

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