Johnson Morris, V. (2008), "Results NOW: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 46 No. 3, pp. 430-433. https://doi.org/10.1108/09578230810869365
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
More than ever, schools are concerned with student achievement, closing achievement gaps, meeting the needs of diverse learners and establishing consistent, and overall program success. Increased accountability and high stakes tests have fueled numerous school improvement initiatives and programs (Raudenbush, 2004). Sorting through the challenges and designing customized improvement models is arduous, ongoing and, often, an overwhelming process for schools. Results NOW: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning “makes a radical claim: [Schools] have an opportunity to blow the lid off school attainment, dramatically and swiftly reduce the achievement gap and enhance the ‘life chances’ of all children, regardless of their social or economic circumstances” (p. 2). This quote identifies the author's purpose for writing this book and suggests that the path to overall success may be found in fundamental practices. Teachers and administrators are challenged to confront the status quo by engaging in relatively simple, immediate and practical activities that have proven to be successful in improving the quality of education in numerous studies conducted by the author.
Schmoker conducted action research in 1,500 schools where this author successfully utilized the practical strategies discussed in this book. The findings suggest there are proven structures and practices that stand to make an immediate difference in achievement, and require reasonable amounts of time and resources (p. 176). Specific structures and strategies offered ways to optimize the use of the reading period for students, administrative monitoring of curriculum implementation, and the development of teacher led “Professional Learning Communities” (PLC) to improve the quality of education for students. The book is divided into three sections; “Reality and illusion in public schools”, “Literacy education: the greatest opportunity of all”, and “Learning and leading in the professional learning community”. Each of these sections is divided into chapters that provide the reader with information and practical suggestions for improving the quality of public school education.
Section 1, “Reality and illusion in public schools”, is composed of four chapters. In Chapter 1, “The buffer”, an invisible shield, identified as the buffer, operates on several levels to prevent stakeholders from taking a real look at the quality of education offered in schools. This shield creates a false sense of success and harmony among those who deliver and those who receive instruction. The buffer can be dismantled by implementing common sense practices, such as increased monitoring of teacher practice by administrators and increased support of instruction through guidance, collaboration and feedback. In chapter 2, “Isolation: the enemy of improvement”, Schmoker suggests the isolation inherent in the teaching practice encourages instructional mediocrity, fosters disparate effectiveness among teachers and prevents much of what is presented in professional development workshops from being implemented in classrooms. Shared remedies for teaching in isolation include providing clear lesson objectives, using intermittent assessments to monitor lesson effectiveness, and ascertaining student levels of comprehension regularly to guide instruction.
Chapter 3 is titled “Leadership interrupted: how the buffer compromises supervision”. The author emphasizes the importance of collaboration between teachers and school leadership to improve and monitor the quality of instruction and dismantle the buffer. The buffer is reinforced by the dual roles leaders face, as education ambassadors for parents and the community and instructional leaders for teachers and students, as these roles impede constructive scrutiny and candid discourse about the quality, or lack thereof, of instruction in our schools. The buffer is also bolstered by state and national school award recognition pursuits. Buffer busters include solutions for addressing these issues such as, providing teachers time to reflect upon and analyze their accomplishments, goal setting, collaborating with colleagues to discuss standards and develop meaningful lessons based on these standards.
The importance of what is taught in the classroom is emphasized in Chapter 4, “Curricular chaos”. In this chapter several studies and researchers are cited who reiterate the importance of teacher knowledge of the standards driving their curriculum. The studies exposed discrepancies between the actual and stated curriculae taught within schools, as exposed by David Berliner's research conducted in 1984. One example revealed a teacher who taught 28 times more science than a colleague down the hall. These findings along with those of the author inspired this book.
Section II, “Literacy education: the greatest opportunity of all”, is composed of three chapters that focus on literacy as a tool for liberation and a gateway to intellectual and financial opportunity. In chapter 5, “The power of authentic literacy”, Schmoker gives specific accounts of individuals profoundly impacted by the power of literacy. Specific literacy building activities included engagement in daily reading and opportunities for critical thinking activities, such as “deep reading” and “dominant discourse”. Deep reading is defined as reading for a purpose and dominant discourse is engaging in discussions about the readings and their relevance and application to the student's world. These activities are promoted by the author as weapons for destroying the bonds of class and race.
In Chapter 6, “Authentic literacy and intellectual development”, a preoccupation with decoding and fluency in traditional reading classes is denounced and “strategic reading”, which incorporates close reading, rereading, writing and discussion is promoted. Strategic reading requires students to determine what is important and draw inferences from what they read using such specific strategies. These activities lead to writing experiences that help students make connections with their prior knowledge and engage in higher order thinking. Reading, writing and discussion are emphasized in this chapter as keys to equity, access, economic opportunity, and discernment of political discourse.
In chapter 7, “The Startling state of literacy education” focuses on the demonstrated underachievement and underdeveloped critical thinking ability of students and how these elements of learning are due to unproductive and unsuccessful teaching practices that have managed to invade schools over the years. These unsuccessful practices were evidenced in the grim report produced by the author after conducting hundreds of school tours. In every school visited, rarely were students engaged in meaningful reading and writing activities during the reading period. Instead, students were found spending large proportions of time on “literature‐based arts and crafts”. Additionally, the reading and writing activities examined lacked emphasis on interpretation, argument and analysis.
In Section III, “Learning and leading in the professional learning community”, Schmoker presents three chapters that promote the effectiveness of teamwork and collaboration of on‐site teacher experts. In chapter 8, “Professional learning communities: the surest, fastest path to instructional improvement”, Schmoker describes “Professional learning communities” as the perfect vehicle for continuous program improvement. PLC's foster on‐site professional development, instructional leadership and collaborative activities that create meaningful instruction based on student work. In chapter 9, “Leadership in the professional learning community”, emphasis is placed on the importance of replacing conventional professional development with regular collaborative teams that prepare and improve what is taught and how it is taught. Collaborative reviews and discussions about curriculum maps, grade books, Team Lesson Logs, student work, and rubrics create a renewed curriculum and provide evidence of best practices in lessons. These discussions, reviews, and periodic classroom tours are considered building blocks of school reform. The chapter concludes with a discussion on effective leadership styles and endeavors with challenges and opposition to good leadership. In the final chapter, chapter 10, “Scaling up: central office and state‐level leadership in the learning community”, Schmoker communicates how authentic improvement at the school level must be reinforced at the district, state and national levels. To accelerate major improvement beyond isolated school sites, districts and states are admonished to establish new and supportive strategies, practices, policies and job descriptions. Teamwork and collaboration strategies have implications for leaders at the district level. District level meetings were challenged to be more coherent, establish priorities and demonstrate persistence and commitment to the change process, as these activities inspire confidence in building administrators. In addition, incorporation of professional learning communities at the district and state level and a redefinition of the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction position were suggested. Finally, Appendix A offers practical suggestions and assignments for teaching critical and argumentative literacy.
Overall, Results NOW: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning is an engaging, quick read that encourages teachers, administrators and educational leaders to improve the quality of education. These stakeholders are challenged to improve their individual practices and destroy the buffer that “discourages and even punishes close, constructive scrutiny of instruction and the supervision of instruction” (p. 13). The book affirms that education does not need additional studies or programs to improve. As the title of this book suggests, implementing practical strategies at all levels can begin to improve the quality of education for all students “now”. This book is highly recommended to all stakeholders in education including teachers, parents, school administrators and policy makers who are concerned with student achievement, closing achievement gaps, meeting the needs of diverse learners and establishing consistent, and overall program success.
Raudenbush, S. (2004), “Schooling, statistics, and poverty: can we measure school improvement?”, 9th Annual William H. Angoff Memorial Lecture, April 1 2004, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, NJ, pp. 5‐8.