How to Save a Failing School

Question: How can a failing school be turned around?

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Pedro Noguera:  Well I say you have to focus on three areas and you have to focus on them simultaneously.  First you have to focus on the culture of the school, the attitudes, values, beliefs, the norms, the relationships.  Typically failing schools have dysfunctional cultures, a culture of blame, a culture where not working, not teaching is accepted and if you can’t find ways to change that you can’t really move a school, so you really need to focus on creating a culture that is focused on accountability, on achievement, on learning, a culture that is focused on creating stronger relationships between adults and kids with a clarity around mission.

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In addition to focusing on culture you have to address the systems in place, systems for how you make sure that the curriculum is in place, for how you make sure that interventions that draw on best practices are being applied to kids, systems that allow you to use technology effectively, that allow you to diagnose learning needs of kids effectively, so there are systems that also have to be put in place, so that the system that is at the school is not just dependent upon the whims of individuals, but it can function even if you have a change in teacher or principal, the school still functions as an organization that has a clarity around its purpose.

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And then the third key ingredient is always leadership.  You have to have people in leadership roles who have vision, who have the ability to motivate, inspire the people around them, who have the ability to share responsibility, to mobilize and recruit resources for that school.  You need leadership to attract good teachers.  You need leadership to sustain good teachers because without a good principal in place teachers tend to suffer, so leadership is a critical variable in all this.  Leaders who know how to generate a sense of buy in from the staff and then from students and the parents are really what it takes to create highly effective schools.

Recorded on January 28, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

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