Public education is one of the most important, if not THE most important institutions in a democracy, and it is heartening to see the many things that are working for young people. One of the toughest challenges in public education has been spreading what works.
There's always talk of "sharing best practices" so we can learn from our successful peers. It's a lot easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk, and we are the first to admit that we sometimes fall a bit short. We too often identify the highest performers, tell their story and then leave it up to other schools to figure out what parts are relevant to them and how to implement these great strategies.
Sharing is still important, but a meeting between two school districts this past week reminded me of where the magic is -- and what we must all demand -- the same amount of attention to implementing best practices. This is the second time in recent months that we have brought school design teams from Rochester, New York, and Hartford, Connecticut, together to innovate and problem solve. Their exchange is energizing and the learning is kinetic. When these teams go back to their schools, it is critical that we are diligent with follow through and coaching to keep the momentum going. It is not easy and it costs us all in staff time, travel and energy. There will always be more to do, but in the end the outcomes for our youth will prove worthwhile.
Hartford and Rochester face similar challenges: high poverty surrounded by great wealth and historically dismal outcomes for city students. They both have superintendents who are committed to doing what it takes to change and locally based companies like Xerox in Rochester and Travelers and UTC in Hartford that understand the connection between the preparation and inspiration that today's high school students receive and their companies futures.
Hartford is a year or so ahead of Rochester using career academies to restructure their schools. They have increased their graduation rate and have rising test scores. They are the first to admit that they have a long way to go, but the early results are very positive and appear sustainable.
This is good news for Hartford, and its good news for Rochester. After the Rochester team's visit to Connecticut, we heard things like, "I am taking home that it IS possible to achieve success within an urban school," "We are okay, despite our newness to this process. I can see that we are on the right path," and "This visit showed me where we will be in a couple of years. I have hope for our school!"
It's easy to laude the great schools and villainize the bad ones, but let's shift the emphasis to applying and growing the experiences of our successful schools and/or the parts that are successful. Despite what the media and our public discourse would make you think, there is little in education -- or life -- that is purely good or bad.
One of our matches is going strong, and now we are looking for the next match that will bring students what they deserve and need to succeed.