Morgan Joseph

Over the past five years, the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy has presented the Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report to “provide state and local leaders with a comprehensive look at the progress of the Massachusetts educational system.” Their research reviews 25 state-level indicators of student success, looking for trends that are most promising for improving outcomes for learners.

This year’s report is a bit different. Instead of focusing on what emerging approaches improve outcomes for students, the 2018 report dives into how to successfully implement known solutions. School leaders have the tools and information needed to enact successful reforms —it is now time to act.

As you think about how to implement the next steps of your school or district initiative, consider these four takeaways from the report:

1. Start at the margins

The biggest need of education is to build the capacity of leaders to provide ALL students with a well resourced, well rounded education

— John B. King Jr., Ph.D.

By most accounts, Massachusetts has one of the best school systems in the United States. The commonwealth ranks in the top three among all states on nearly every achievement metric, but a closer look at the data reveals shortcomings. While the state ranks second in the nation in 8th grade reading scores, it ranks second to last in 8th grade reading scores for Latino students. This is one of many examples highlighting the disparities of the current approach and the work still needed for every student to be successful.

Massachusetts needs to invest in its most under-resourced students and communities. Leaders need to look closely at their data and take research-based approaches to eliminating the achievement gap in their schools. Investments in time and resources must be used to help diverse learners feel safe, supported and respected in their classrooms to harness the power of their education.

2. Have a plan for implementation

We already know the what, it’s time for us to focus on the how

— Chad d'Entremont, Executive Director, The Rennie Center

Research shows most education initiatives take five years to produce results, but are often abandoned after year two. For new projects to reach their fullest potential, leaders need a rigorous, structured approach to planning and implementing district and school improvement strategies. The Rennie Center’s Change Management Framework focuses on defining the purpose and approach for an initiative (the what) and determining the methods for achieving goals (the how).

Most teams understand the first piece, but their plans unravel when there isn’t a clear plan for dealing with the challenges that surface along the way. Determining how to lead, support, test, and continually learn from implementation will go beyond getting initiatives off the ground. It will sustain and grow their impact on underserved students.

3. Invest in people responsible for execution

Empowering those on the front lines is essential to moving the needle for students

— James Peyser, Massachusetts Secretary of Education

Peyser sees schools as units of change. While state and district officials generate plans and pass legislation, implementation starts at the school level. Our current approach to school improvement leaves school-based leaders feeling like they are on a raft in the ocean, beholden to each new wave of change without a tool to navigate the waters. Without a way to impact what’s happening, school leaders feel little ownership and often struggle to actively move initiatives forward.

State and local officials should be focusing on establishing conditions of success that create capacity in systems and infrastructure to support schools to success. Culture, coherence and change should be pushed to the school level, giving ownership to those on the front lines.

4. Create time to develop a learning process

For all students to be successful, everyone must be learning

— Patricia Lampron, Headmaster, Dr. William Henderson K-12 Inclusion School

At the Dr. William Henderson K-12 Inclusion School, a public school in Boston, all students, regardless of need, learn in the same classroom. When people visit and ask for the curriculum, Headmaster Lampron will tell them “there isn’t one, there are many.” Teachers are constantly refining their lessons and developing resources to address the different ways students access information.

Teachers didn’t arrive at the Henderson School knowing how to do this work but built their capacity being open to learning and trying new instructional approaches. Each person looks at his or her own practice and utilizes a process of reteaching, reassessing, and reflecting to determine what works best for each student. This process-driven approach to adult learning is what enables student learners from different backgrounds and levels of need to thrive. Adult learners across the state and nation must adopt this mindset if all students are to be successful.