According to studies, the United States’ academic achievements remain lower than that of their peers in other countries. While students continue to rank around the middle of the pack, they’re behind other advanced industrial nations and, this is especially true in math, science literacy, and reading ability.
But, why is this the case? After all, I believe we have all the solutions to our public education problems. We have creative approaches to teaching that are backed by professional research. We have programs like the ones we run that help narrow the achievement gap during the summer months. We also have interventions that help boost the confidence and test scores of minority children, poor children, and children with learning differences.
With all the above in mind, how is it that we have all these solutions and programs yet, we’ve not been able to close the achievement gap? Why is it that we can’t eliminate the current inequity in our public education system?
The answer I’d like to suggest is rather simple: implementation. Our solutions and programs can’t help if we don’t implement them correctly.
The Conversation Surrounding Class Sizes
One of my favorite examples of how our solutions aren’t always implemented correctly is class sizes. Today, research shows that smaller class sizes can improve academic achievement. In fact, a national survey found that reducing class sizes could be the best way to reform schools. The idea is that the more students a teacher is responsible for, the harder it is for them to focus on the lesson they’re trying to teach.
Despite the evidence that smaller class sizes can improve student learning, it’s not as simple as just reducing the number of kids in a classroom. Yes, when we decrease the number of kids in a classroom we reduce the teacher’s workload. But, do we increase the quality of the instructions or the teaching experience?
Oftentimes, schools reduce the size of their classrooms without giving educators the appropriate training that allows them to achieve more with fewer students. They’re not equipped with the tools and techniques to educate their smaller classrooms. In essence, by not providing the right training and by not adapting teaching styles, we end up with exactly the same outcome as when we had larger class sizes - except we throw more money down the drain since we had to hire more teachers to achieve this outcome.
Using the Corporate World as an Example
Let’s have a look at a corporate example. Today, there are statistics proving that a shorter work week can improve productivity and offer a healthier work-life balance. In fact, companies in New Zealand, Sweden, and Japan are all testing this new theory. Other companies are allowing employees to cram their usual hours within four days.
But, what if we told you that shorter weeks aren’t all they’re cracked up to be?
Many companies who tested offering their employees fewer hours reverted back to their usual 40-hour weeks in a matter of months. Unfortunately, businesses quickly noticed that the costs started to outweigh the benefits, leaving them with redundancies and cutbacks.
Companies allowing employees to cram their work weeks into four days also experienced issues. They were forced to work 10 hours or more every day. While they had an extra day to rest, they also faced increased fatigue and stress which in the long-term can lead to serious health conditions. This increase in stress can also lead to a higher injury rate and more accidents at work due to lack of focus.
Many of these companies also found that a five-day week allowed them to foster better working relationships and collaborations on projects. Not only this, customers missed the usual 5-day a week service they were used to.
You could also use work meetings as an example. If you suddenly cut down on your weekly meetings, you may feel less stressed and overwhelmed. But, would you automatically be more productive? After all, if you’re accustomed to getting all your work done within those meetings, how do you make use of your time now that you don’t have any? If you don’t have the tools to work more autonomously and you’re not given any guidance on how to make the most of the extra time, you won’t be adding more value to your projects or company as a whole.
So, what is wrong with the model? Is it the fact that employees worked shorter weeks or had more time to work autonomously during the day? Or, is it the fact that they didn’t implement these programs correctly?
Good Implementation Is Key to Closing the Achievement Gap
More often than not, we launch promising practices that are backed by research without creating an implementation plan that offers all parties involved the training, tools, and techniques they need to make them a success. Before we launch new ideas to the world, we have to consider all eventualities. We have to create a bulletproof plan. Better yet, we have to follow this plan with fidelity.
The key is not to give up on the intervention or program. Instead, we need to make sure they succeed by backing them with an implementation plan. When the implementation fails, we need to be quick to discern what happened in the implementation process to improve it instead of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. By working with a team of trained professionals with successful experience designing and implementing creative programs, you can inspire your students to reach their full potential and close the achievement gap.