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What does it take to turn around low performing schools?

High-performing, high-poverty schools have strong leadership, a clear purpose, and clearly defined curriculum (Carter, 2000). In high-performing schools, teachers are well trained, acknowledge the difficult findings, spend most of their time teaching, and ensure that learning is happening (Carter, 2000; Schmoker, 2006). In this brief literature review, we examine the factors found in high performing schools that are also prevalent in the schools of this study: namely the impact of instruction, teacher training, leadership, use of assessment data, and instructional coaches for student achievement.

The impact of instruction on student achievement

In recent years, there has been renewed interest in the role of the teacher as the key to school improvement. The 2001 NCLB legislation codifies the emphasis of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom (as cited in Stronge, Ward, Tucker,&Hindman, 2008). According to Schmoker (2006), the single greatest determinant of learning is not socioeconomic factors or funding levels; it’s instruction. Sammons (1987) found that teaching had 6 to 10 times as much effect on learning as all other factors combined. The September, 1996 report of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (the Commission), What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future , followed by Pursuing Excellence , The report of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, all point to the finding that what teachers know and can do is crucial to what students learn (as cited in Darling-Hammond&Ball, 1997).

Therefore, to improve overall student achievement, the quality of instruction must be improved (Carter, 2000; Wallace 2003).

Teacher training and student achievement

To improve instruction, the quality of educators providing the instruction must be improved. In accordance with Carter (2000), Leithwood et. al.( 2004), and Schmoker (2006), teacher quality is the single most accurate indicator of students’ performance in school. To ensure that high-level instruction is occurring, schools need to have highly trained teachers. Yoon and colleagues (Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarlos,&Shapley, 2007) concluded that “teachers who receive sub­stantial professional development can boost their students’ achievement by about 21 percentile points” (p. iii). The right kinds of professional development for both teachers and school leaders can directly contribute to improved student performance (Holloway, 2006).

Accordingly, on-going targeted and focused professional development can significantly impact student achievement (Thurston, 2008).

The impact of leadership on student achievement

To ensure that quality instruction is happening throughout a school, leadership is critical. Perez, Uline, Johnson, James-Ward&Basom (2008) affirm that an ever growing body of evidence underscores a significant and positive relationship between effective school leadership, student learning, and achievement. Among related factors, leadership is second only to classroom instruction in its contribution to student learning (Leithwood, Seashore, Anderson&Wahlstrom, 2004). Moreover, the effects of leadership are greatest within the contexts where they are most needed, that is, “the greater the challenge, the greater the impact of leadership on learning (Leithwood et al., 2004). Hence, in underperforming and in high poverty schools, the need for effective leadership is magnified.

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Source:  OpenStax, Ncpea education leadership review, volume 10, number 2; august 2009. OpenStax CNX. Feb 22, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10710/1.2
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