by Dr. Avis Glaze
Edu-quest International Inc. Canada
As an educator for almost four decades, one of the areas that has concerned me most is the question of whether or not we can achieve both excellence and equity in school systems today.
I have a strong belief that we cannot truly say that we have an excellent school system if there is a long tail of failure, and, when we disaggregate the data, those at the bottom belong to specific demographic groups. These include boys, immigrants, girls, children from low socio-economic backgrounds or children with mental health concerns, to name a few. If some or any of these groups are clustered at the bottom of the achievement ladder, we cannot say that we have an equitable and inclusive system. That is a key measure of equity. For me, we cannot have excellence without equity.
Societal expectations are very high. In a recent discussion with Michael Fullan, I asked him what his thoughts were about school improvement, given his statement some years ago that schools should achieve 90-95% success. Michael’s response was that “The new mission for schools is to achieve 100% success, and to have specific explanations and strategies for addressing any figure that falls short of full success.”
I have long felt that the days of making excuses for low performance are long gone. We have the knowledge and skills to improve student achievement. If this is the case, the question has to be: Do we have the will? We know what works. We now have to build upon what we already know and have already done in many of our schools, to take the education systems as a whole, to new heights. We need to learn with and from our colleagues. In every system in which I have worked across the globe, there are many schools that are achieving the expected outcomes. But we need to refocus our efforts on building capacity, developing our leaders, establishing networks and spreading successful practices across schools.
Recently, I was asked to address the question: What does it take to improve student achievement? I identified 7 of the strategies that contribute significantly to improving student outcomes, which I will de-construct in another issue. These are, in random order:
1. High Expectations for Learning with Growth Mindsets
2. Effective Instruction in the Digital Age
3. Early and On-going Assessment, Interventions and Support
4. Inclusive, Culturally-Responsive Pedagogy
5. Innovation, Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Career Education
6. Leaders as Co-Learners, and
7. Character Development
Another Critical Factor
There are many other important factors that contribute to student outcomes. I would like to add another to the list above. It is the issue of teacher quality. We know from many years of solid research in education that the strongest factor in determining student achievement is not school size, accountability measures, standards, social-economic status or even the aptitude of students. In fact, researchers such as Wise and Liebrand (2000) have concluded from their meta-analysis of standards and teacher quality that well prepared teachers have a greater impact on student achievement, are more attuned to students’ needs, and are better able to devise instruction to meet individual needs. Another popular researcher, Linda Darling Hammond (2000) in discussing the notion that investment in teacher quality pays off, concluded that the greatest predictor of student achievement is not student demographics, overall school spending, class size or teacher salaries. She asserts that teacher quality is the variable that most influences student achievement. Other well-respected researchers Kenneth Leithwood and Doris Jantzi (2000) said that leadership is second only to classroom teaching as an influence on student learning. So let us continue to invest in and build teacher and principal capacity in order to improve our schools.
I hope you share my optimism for the future of education and the confidence that today’s educators will achieve both excellence and equity. We have the will and the skills to realize this promise. I encourage you to draw upon your rich repertoire of knowledge and skills and to focus on what works. We must build upon our successes and continue to improve our schools – with a sense of urgency. Parents are expecting it; politicians are demanding it; the community-at-large deserves it. But most importantly, as educators, we want the best for our students. We do not want to truncate their life chances or future possibilities. That’s why we accepted the challenging roles of teaching and leadership. As true professionals, we will redouble our efforts to make every school an excellent school in every neighbourhood.
In sum, we want all students to be successful so that they live happy, productive and self-sustaining lives. We want to improve our schools and ensure that all students, especially the most vulnerable or disadvantaged, graduate from our schools with confidence, high self-regard and concern for others. These imperatives are grounded in moral, demographic, enlightened self-interest, community health, social justice, global competitiveness and human rights expectations. We want to unleash student potential and motivate them to do their personal best regardless of the background factors that locate them in society. We want to build teacher and principal capacity leading to the instructional and leadership effectiveness that are necessary for systems to thrive.
Our goal must be to work quickly and effectively while always being mindful of the fact that we will not achieve excellence without equity. Let us re-affirm our commitment to improving our schools with a sense of urgency. Let us redouble our efforts and draw upon our rich repertoire of knowledge and skills to get the job done.
The children cannot wait.
About the Author:
Dr. Avis Glaze is one of Canada’s outstanding educators and a recognized international leader in education. From classroom teacher to Director, she was appointed by the Premier as the province’s first Chief Student Achievement Officer and Founding CEO of the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. Avis played a pivotal role in improving student achievement in Ontario, Canada. Currently, she is President of Edu-quest International Inc., offering a wide range of educational services and speaking engagements across the globe.
Avis co-authored Breaking Barriers: Excellence and Equity for All (Glaze, Mattingley and Levin) on the high impact strategies to improve education systems in general, and schools in particular. Her most recent book, High School Graduation: k-12 Strategies that Work (Glaze, Mattingley and Andrews), identifies the research-informed strategies to improve graduation rates for all students regardless of socio-economic or other social or demographic factors.
A few years ago, Avis’ international contributions to education was recognized in Scotland when she received the Robert Owen Award from Mr. Michael Russell, former Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.
Visit her website at: www.avisglaze.ca
Darling -Hammond, L. (2000) Teacher Quality and Student Achievement: A Review of State Policy Evidence. Education policy analysis archives, [S.l.], v. 8, p. 1, jan. 2000. ISSN 1068-2341. URL: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/392/515
Glaze, A. (2013) How Ontario spread successful practices across 5,000 schools. Phi Delta Kappan, November 2013 vol 95, no. 3, 44-50. DOI: 10.1177/003172171309500310
Glaze, A., Mattingley, R. & Andrews, R. (2013) High school graduation: K-12 strategies that work. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
Leithwood, K., Jantzi, D. (2000) The effects of transformational leadership on organizational conditions and student engagement with school. Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 38 Iss: 2, pp.112 – 129. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09578230010320064
Wise, A.E., Leibbrand, J.A. (2000) Standards and teacher quality. Phi Delta Kappan, vol 81, no.8, 612-621. URL: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-61557305/standards-and-teacher-quality-entering-the-new-millennium