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Cover page of Addressing barriers to learning: In the classroom and schoolwide.

Addressing barriers to learning: In the classroom and schoolwide.



Public education is at a crossroads. Moving in new directions is imperative. Just tweaking and tinkering with old ideas is a recipe for disaster.

Continuing challenges confronting public education highlight why moving school improvement policy and practice in new directions is imperative. With a view to enhancing graduation rates and successful transitions to post-secondary opportunities and well-being, pressing challenges include:

Increasing equity of opportunity for every student to succeed, narrowing the achievement gap, and countering the school to prison pipeline Reducing unnecessary referrals for special assistance and special education; Improving school climate and retaining good teachers Reducing the number of low performing schools.

As education leaders well know, meeting these challenges requires making sustainable progress in

improving supports for specific subgroups (e.g., English Learners, immigrant newcomers, lagging minorities, homeless students, students with disabilities) increasing the number of disconnected students who re-engage in classroom learning and thus improving attendance, reducing disruptive behaviors (e.g., including bullying and sexual harassment), and decreasing suspensions and dropouts increasing family and community engagement with schools responding effectively when schools experience crises events and preventing crises whenever possible.

In some schools, continuous progress related to these concerns is being made. For many districts, however, sustainable progress remains elusive – and will continue to be so as long as the focus of school improvement policy and practice is mainly on improving instruction. Efforts to expand the use of instructional technology, develop new curriculum standards, make teachers more accountable, and improve teacher preparation and licensing all have merit; but they are insufficient for addressing the many everyday barriers to learning and teaching that interfere with effective student engagement in classroom instruction.

Most policy makers and administrators know that good instruction delivered by highly qualified teachers cannot ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed at school.

Even the best teacher can’t do the job alone. Teachers need student and learning supports in the classroom and schoolwide in order to personalize instruction and provide special assistance when students manifest learning, behavior, and emotional problems. Unfortunately, school improvement plans continue to give short shrift to these critical matters.

We recognize, as did a Carnegie Task Force on Education, that school systems are not responsible for meeting every need of their students. But as the task force stressed: when the need directly affects learning, the school must meet the challenge.

The most pressing challenge is to enhance equity of opportunity by fundamentally improving how schools address barriers to learning and teaching. The future of public education depends on moving in new directions to accomplish this.

Now is the time to fundamentally transform how schools address factors that keep too many students from doing well at school. And while transformation is never easy, pioneering work across the country is showing the way. Trailblazers are redeploying existing funds allocated for addressing barriers to learning and weaving these together with the invaluable resources that can be garnered by collaboration with other agencies and with community stakeholders, family members, and students themselves.

The first step in moving forward is to escape old ideas. The second step is to incorporate a new vision in school improvement planning for addressing barriers to learning and teaching and re-engaging disconnected students. Our analyses envision a plan that designs and develops a unified, comprehensive, and equitable system of student and learning supports. The third step is to develop a strategic plan for systemic change, scale-up, and sustainability.

This book highlights each of these matters. We invite you to join us in the quest to enhance equity of opportunity for all students to succeed at school and beyond. And we look forward to hearing from you about moving schools forward to make the rhetoric of the Every Student Succeeds Act a reality.

Cover page of Improving School Improvement

Improving School Improvement



In opening this volume, you might be thinking:

Is another book on school improvement really needed?

Clearly our answer is yes. Our analyses of prevailing school improvement legislation, planning, and literature indicates fundamental deficiencies, especially with respect to enhancing equity of opportunity and closing the achievement gap.

Here is what our work uniquely brings to policy and planning tables:

(1) An expanded framework for school improvement – We highlight that moving from a two- to a three-component policy and practice framework is essential for closing the opportunity and achievement gaps. (That is, expanding from focusing primarily on instruction and management/government concerns by establishing a third primary component to improve how schools address barriers to learning and teaching.)

(2) An emphasis on integrating a deep understanding of motivation – We underscore that concerns about engagement, management of behavior, school climate, equity of opportunity, and student outcomes require an up-to-date grasp of motivation and especially intrinsic motivation.

(3) Clarification of the nature and scope of personalized teaching – We define personalization as the process of matching learner motivation and capabilities and stress that it is the learner's perception that determines whether the match is a good one.

(4) A reframing of remediation and special education – We formulate these processes as personalized special assistance that is applied in and out of classrooms and practiced in a sequential and hierarchical manner.

(5) A prototype for transforming student and learning supports – We provide a framework for a unified, comprehensive, and equitable system designed to address barriers to learning and teaching and re-engage disconnected students and families.

(6) A reworking of the leadership structure for whole school improvement --

We outline how the operational infrastructure can and must be realigned in keeping with a three component school improvement framework.

(7) A systemic approach to enhancing school-community collaboration – We delineate a leadership role for schools in outreaching to communities in order to work on shared concerns through a formal collaborative operational infrastructure that enables weaving together resources to advance the work.

(8) An expanded framework for school accountability – We reframe school accountability to ensure a balanced approach that accounts for a shift to a three component school improvement policy.

(9) Guidance for substantive, scalable, and sustainable systemic changes –

We frame mechanisms and discuss lessons learned related to facilitating fundamental systemic changes and replicating and sustaining them across a district.

The frameworks and practices presented are based on our many years of work in schools and from efforts to enhance school-community collaboration. We incorporate insights from various theories and the large body of relevant research and from lessons learned and shared by many school leaders and staff who strive everyday to do their best for children.

Our emphasis on new directions in no way is meant to demean current efforts. We know that the demands placed on those working in schools go well beyond what anyone should be asked to do. Given the current working conditions in many schools, our intent is to help make the hard work generate better results. To this end, we highlight new directions and systemic pathways for improving school outcomes.

Some of what we propose is difficult to accomplish. Hopefully, the fact that there are schools, districts, and state agencies already trailblazing the way will engender a sense of hope and encouragement to those committed to innovation.

It will be obvious that our work owes much to many. We are especially grateful to those who are pioneering major systemic changes across the country. These leaders and so many in the field have generously offered their insights and wisdom. And, of course, we are indebted to hundreds of scholars whose research and writing is a shared treasure. As always, we take this opportunity to thank Perry Nelson and the host of graduate and undergraduate students at UCLA who contribute so much to our work each day, and to the many young people and their families who continue to teach us all.

Respectfully submitted for your consideration,

Howard Adelman & Linda Taylor