School Reform: An Ecological Model

Donald F. Perras
July 1, 2013 — 970 views  

As the state and local communities address school reform initiatives to rectify the chronic achievement gap, critical information must be evaluated to create a valid intervention plan. An "ecological" perspective is recommended to analyze the complicated factors involved in closing the achievement gap.

First, it is imperative that school districts examine their current policies and agendas regarding student achievement. School management, personnel allocation and support services should be assessed to maximize learning.

Public schools must embrace their mission to create student-friendly environments that motivate achievement while promoting social-behavioral skills. Changing school "climate" is fundamental to accommodate students' developmental readiness and influence of life history on potential to achieve. An appealing, structured physical setting encourages commitment to learning across all grade levels. Sample illustrations include decorative classrooms, displays of student accomplishments and seasonal celebrations. While often minimized in high schools, this responsibility is primary to motivate student attendance, improve attitudes toward academic expectations and increase bonding with faculty.

Second, effective administrative leadership is essential to alter the historical inertia prevalent in too many schools, where reliance on unproductive strategies continues to depress achievement. Convincing educators to adjust teacher-directed instruction, for instance, is problematic without evidence of other methods' effectiveness to benefit students' learning needs. Aligning changing operational procedures with staff accountability, therefore, must define any reform mandates, especially where resistance to change impedes application of new practices. This is typically a major impediment to reform in schools failing to meet annual test score improvement. Dynamic, supportive leadership can have a profound impact on reversing this dilemma.

Third, schools must hire and train competent staff dedicated to fostering student learning. This requires educators with intelligence, resourcefulness and compassion. Unfortunately, there is a dire shortage of qualified educators to fully implement reform requirements. University certification programs should adjust their training to emphasize strategies for instructing and managing diverse learners with complex personal and/or family issues that interfere with academic success. Professional development activities and individual consultation are critical to enhance teachers' implementation of curricula modifications and proactive behavioral methods. Literacy workshops, inclusion techniques and classroom management, among others, are recommended topics. As different obligations are imposed on staff, personalized assistance can alleviate confusion or frustration. Without this component, reform interventions will ultimately fail to produce consistent academic progress.

Fourth, alternative educational practices are required to reflect the influence of students' social-cultural expectations on learning, particularly the importance of self-discipline to achieve their personal goals. Realistically, however, developmental disabilities, family-based stressors and struggling schools impact a disproportionate percentage of students' opportunities to express their potential.

A coordinated plan to remediate these factors must investigate field-tested programming that integrates classroom design, interactive teaching practices and positive behavioral procedures.

Lacking these techniques lessens teachers' options to engage reluctant learners or behaviorally-challenging students.

Acquiring this expertise promotes interpersonal respect and trust with students, which translates into greater accountability, an invaluable benefit to sustain teachers' commitment and career longevity. Periodic data collection is fundamental to assess achievement gains connected to specific interventions.

Regardless of the complexity of closing the achievement gap, a collaborative commitment is paramount between state officials and local school districts if comprehensive action is to occur. A total investment of resources and personnel must be the hallmarks of this critical endeavor.

Maintaining the status quo cannot be tolerated. Otherwise, this reprehensible inequity will continue to suppress Connecticut's standard of living and its contribution to America's quest for excellence.

Donald F. Perras

Don Perras: Educator/Classroom Management Consultant

Donald F. Perras, of Stratford, is an educational consultant /behavioral specialist and an adjunct professor at Southern Connecticut State University and St. Joseph College. Donald can be contacted at 203-385-0068.