Woman writing a plan

In My Book, Writing a School Improvement Plan IS NOT Busy Work

After a full-week of coming home and staying up past midnight (including two weekends) working on the state mandated School Improvement Plan, we submitted a hard copy to our school district where it will undergo an approval process before it is electronically submitted to the state – 82 days from today.

I have been a member of the School Improvement Plan committee for three years now. At my school, (up until this year) completing it has always been a collaborative labor of love (because at my school, teachers LOVE teaching and WANT to improve their teaching practice and UNDERSTAND that the way we are currently doing school is NOT working). But this year, writing the school improvement plan was more like busy work due to the highly pre-scripted format we followed and the directives we were given. As you read this blog keep in mind that this IS YOUR tax dollars hard at work!

The plan’s mandated components: our school vision and mission statement, statement of our educational gaps in each academic area, reasons for the educational gap, four goals (reading and writing as one goal, plus math, science, and social studies), one objective each goal, four strategies with four activities, the research that supports it, the resources needed to complete the activities, the cost and the staff who are responsible for completing the activities.

We were told that we needed to reduce our 160-page document to 25 pages (or less) because there are only four readers hired to read 120 plans.

It sounds like a story problem I might give my students: District A has four workers that have 82 days to read 120 plans that total no more than 25 pages. How many pages will each worker read per day? The answer … each worker will read 9.14 pages per day. In the book Around the World in Eighty Days, they travel (at the turn of the century) around the world, by various methods of transportation – including elephants. So, in 2011, public school readers should be able to read more than 9.14 pages a day, shouldn’t they?

There are loud policy voices calling for international academic standards and assessments bench-marked against other countries’ educational systems with a constant outcry of how far behind US students perform against their global peers. Most current and planned state/federal education initiatives promote academic choice options such as charter schools, international baccalaureate programs, and increased testing/assessment. These efforts, the public is told, will put American students in high-paying/high-performing professional occupations.

OK, we WANT to improve our teaching practice to address exactly that … and we laid out the complicated plan (with research-based rational) in 160 pages; but according to the district mandate OUR school’s unique improvement plan NEEDS to be written in 25 pages or less … how does that make any real sense?

The good news, we were able to edit our plan from 160 pages to 82 pages. The bad news is that we were not able to reduce our plan to 25 pages or less. (I am told that some schools have been able to meet this mandate of miniaturizing the plan for the hard work we do, although I can’t comprehend how that is possible).

I am (not) sorry that some reader is now at risk of staying up until midnight to read eighty-two pages that are the fruits of our labor of love – but we are teachers desiring meaningful change and we believe that a school improvement plan should be comprehensible and comprehensive and should include everything our school feels WE NEED to do to ensure that we are leaving no child behind. After all, aren’t we really writing it for the intended audience – ourselves – with the intention of improving our instruction and assessment practices to better serve our neighborhood children?

Next year, perhaps “they” will contract someone to write everyone’s plan, you know in the one-plan, one-nation standardization way of “doing school” … then everyone can be on the same page at the same time! But, to me, standardized school improvement plans just seem to be an oxymoron.

We are raising neighborhoods of children not corn crops in the Monsanto-style of standardizing each kernel! And in my corner of the world, writing about what we need to do our job well, can’t be said in 25 pages (or less) or be a written-in-one stone style document – because teaching is a blend of art and science and is absolutely a work-in-progress. There is nothing standardized or abbreviated about growing children.

Tomorrow is a new day that brings new problems that will require new solutions and resources that I didn’t imagine (or write down) today. And that is the both the blessing and the curse.


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