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Schools That Beat the Odds...On Purpose

Recently, Public Agenda released a report on nine Ohio elementary and secondary schools that were "beating the odds," which means demonstrating outstanding student achievement in high-poverty schools. Of course, many other organizations have also identified such schools in the past, notably the Education Trust.

What was different in the Public Agenda report is that, at least in the case of the elementary schools, two of the three schools highlighted used a comprehensive school reform model--Success for All*. In other words, those schools were using a program that others could directly adopt, instead of trying on their own to figure out what all successful schools have to figure out: how to cultivate effective leadership, set high expectations, implement strong professional development, effectively use data, and so on.

The difference between a set of principles and a replicable program is night and day. A replicable program implements similar principles, but does so on purpose, and knows how to do it again and again. In one long-ago baseball game, Babe Ruth famously pointed at the right field wall and then hit the next pitch over it. Lots of baseball players hit home runs, but what made Babe's home run memorable is that he said he was going to do it and then he did it-on purpose.

There are lots of schools that do find a way to "beat the odds" on their own, and I am not arguing that the only path to success is any particular form of comprehensive school reform. But using a proven approach removes the trial and error and false starts; the investment in innovation has already been made by someone else. Implemented with fidelity, a proven program removes much of the risk that typically lies on the path to success. We need a lot more programs capable of helping struggling schools beat the odds--on purpose.

*Note: Robert Slavin is cofounder and chairman of the board for the Success for All Foundation.

Thumbnail image for Sputnik-Blog-Moving-Truck 01072013.jpgSputnik is moving! Follow me to the Huffington Post, where I'll be continuing to write about evidence-based reform in education. See you there!

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