Students will rise to whatever bar we set for them—low or high.
It really is all about expectations. As a high school teacher for fifteen years I personally witnessed how students would alter both their classroom behavior and the quality of their academic performance based solely on the teacher they were assigned to. Every day, I taught with the firmly held belief that all students deserve to go to school in an environment where the adults expect the absolute best out of them and challenge them with rigorous and interesting content. Students thrive when they work hard and they respect the educators who push them to be their best. Sure there will be some complaining, gnashing of teeth, and parent conferences along the way, but if teachers are committed to supporting students through the struggles, the lessons learned are both life changing and life lasting.
Numeracy must be tackled with the same focus and attention as literacy.
About thirty years ago, educators made the decision, based on the evidence, that all students could learn to read and become literate at high levels, regardless of race, income, disabilities, or when they started learning. We now have the research and evidence that unlocks how students actually learn to think mathematically and we have developed the keys to teaching advanced numeracy. Let’s be sure that all students have the opportunities to learn from teachers who have been trained and are skilled at these new methodologies. It’s time to abandon the notion that learning advanced mathematics is only for an elite few.
The principal is the lynchpin of an excellent education system.
There are a host of actors who play crucial roles in creating excellence in education. With good reason, most of our attention is placed on the vital role of the classroom teacher. However, it’s been my experience that the single most important individual in a school is the person who leads and empowers all the teachers and staff. A principal creates a school culture that sets the tone and expectations for students, parents and teachers. Just like students, teachers want to come to school every day feeling safe, supported, and intellectually challenged, and the person who makes that happen, or not, is the principal. We should re-double our efforts to ensure that highly effective instructional leaders are heading up each and every school. When we do this, the dividend will automatically be a school filled with highly effective teachers.
Never be afraid of the data.
All the clichés fit here: The truth will set you free; A picture (graphic) is worth a thousand words; Honesty is the best policy. We have now embraced the idea that a teacher really should have a deep understanding of where a student is starting from and where that student ends up on the continuum towards proficiency. It is time that we also embrace true transparency is the progress of our schools, districts, and states. Let’s get brutally honest about what we have done well in public education and where we still have miles to go. And make the discussions truly about the data, not about finger pointing and blaming. To quote the Data Quality Campaign: “it’s time to use data as a flashlight, not a hammer.”
Be bold, visionary, and focused.
Educators and policy makers have all been very busy since I made the decision to become a teacher on the heels of the release of the “A Nation at Risk”. So why haven’t we made more progress and solved some of the issues identified in that report? I believe it has to do with being satisfied with incremental progress and executing the work as “random acts of school improvement” rather than tackling things in bold, visionary ways that require true strategic planning, alignment and focus at the state level. The monumental tasks of implementing more rigorous standards and creating meaningful educator evaluation systems are going to require more of a state education agency than ever before. Yet, in most places, they have not been given the latitude by the public or policy makers to build their capacity and truly focus. We have to be willing to take some things off the plate so we have room for the really meaningful work that will finally let us close gaps and provide a world-class education for all students.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Kathy Cox's tenure as the Chief Executive Officer for the U.S. Education Delivery Institute began July 1, 2010. Prior to this, she served as Georgia's State Superintendent of Schools from 2003 until 2010. She made significant strides in pointing Georgia's young people toward excellence. Under her leadership as superintendent, the state saw unprecedented achievement gains, with students scoring at or above the national average on reading and writing tests and have shown significant improvement on math tests. During her tenure, the state’s high school graduation rate reached an all-time high, improving by 15 percentage points. Cox was a classroom teacher for 15 years and served two terms in the state legislature before being elected to Georgia's highest educational post in 2003. She holds a bachelor's and a master's degree in Political Science from Emory University.