Executive Perspective

AASA Connect: A Resource To Promote Success

by DANIEL A. DOMENECH

You may have seen the 95/5 Dilemma blog posted on the AASA website. There we write about America’s public schools being the best they have ever been. We provide you with all of the benchmarks that prove it is so.

Daniel Domenech

Graduation rates are the highest they have ever been. Dropout rates are the lowest they have ever been. The college-going rate is the highest it has ever been. Reading and math performances in both 4th and 8th grades on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are the highest they have ever been. Parents’ satisfaction with the public school their child attends is the highest it has ever been. Go ahead. Check it out. It’s true.

The problem is that the performance of our schools is being defined not by our best schools, but by our worst. The U.S. Department of Education has asked every state to identify its lowest-performing schools, and all public schools are being judged by that criterion. Many states and school districts are using the 95/5 data to generate state-level and district-level data to show student performance statewide and locally is indeed the best it has ever been.

Combating Stereotypes
To counter the relentless attack on public education, we need a campaign that focuses on what is good in American education. AASA has created a web presence to do just that. AASA Connect: Where School Leaders Link to Success is a new microsite (http://aasaconnect.org) that AASA launched in October.

The first goal of this new website is to combat the media stereotype that American public schools are failing kids. AASA Connect highlights the successful programs and practices superintendents are implementing to ensure student success.

The second goal is to provide resources specific to superintendents that are not available anywhere else online. Former and current superintendents offer expert advice on issues ranging from school board relations to adopting common core stand­ards. You’ll also find a library of articles on issues such as school construction and professional development, tools for building a successful school public relations campaign, opportunities to apply for grants, the latest research from the Washington-based think tanks and much more.

The new site also offers a way to connect directly with AASA staff and members. Not only is AASA Connect the new home to my blog, the site also highlights some of the best blogs from superintendents around the country, so you can learn from each other and build relationships through our online community.
I invite you to bookmark AASA Connect to take regular advantage of the wealth of resources we offer. We hope you’ll participate, too, by submitting your own success stories, asking our experts questions and giving us feedback on the blogs and columns on the site.

System Models
Highlighting our successes, however, does not negate the need to fix our failing schools. That can only happen by making significant systemic changes. Many of today’s efforts to reform do not focus on system change. We need to look at the success stories that have changed the system for children whose demographics would predict failure.

Geoffrey Canada’s success with the Harlem Children’s Zone has been accomplished due to a dramatic system change. He has dealt with the total needs of the child, not just education. Social, health, economic and educational needs are addressed simultaneously. The resources of multiple agencies, including private donations, have been brought to bear on the system he has created. Charter schools often are touted as solutions, but they are solutions only when they change the system thanks to the exclusions they are granted from laws, rules, regulations and contracts.

On AASA Connect you’ll get to read about schools that are changing the system. Just a few years ago, Clarence Edwards Middle School was on the verge of being shut down by the Boston Public Schools. With only 40 percent of 8th graders proficient in reading and only 12 percent proficient in math, it was one of the lowest-performing middle schools in the district. But in 2006, Clarence Edwards received a planning grant for a new state program that would fund schools to add 300 hours to the school year and redesign the schedule to include more time for academics, enrichment and teacher collaboration. The school has transformed itself into one of the highest-performing, most-sought-after middle schools in Boston.

Edwards Middle School has increased instructional time in all core subjects. Each student also gets an extra four hours per week for academic support. Teachers closely monitor student progress through frequent assessments and provide individualized attention to students in areas where they need the most help. More time for teachers to collaborate has ensured that all instructional time in core subjects, academic support and enrichment is used effectively.

Over a four-year period, Clarence Edwards Middle School has shown significant growth on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. The percentage of students scoring proficient in English language arts increased from 30 percent to 56 percent. Expanding learning time will work when that additional time is used effectively.

Student subgroups at Edwards also saw rapidly rising rates of proficiency. Low-income, limited English proficiency, African-American and Latino populations now exceed or match the state proficiency rate for that subgroup in both math and English. This is only one success story. We encourage you to add your stories of success to the collection on AASA Connect.

Dan Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org