In schools that made significant improvements in a short amount of time, Leithwood and Strauss (2009) found that the schools held three common beliefs:

1. All students are capable of learning when appropriate instruction is provided.
2. While students' family backgrounds have important consequences for their learning, schools are able to more than compensate for the effects of challenging family circumstances.
3. What schools need to do for all students to achieve at improved levels is known, can be learned, and required everyone in the school to work toward common goals.

Do we hold these beliefs?

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Yes, I think we, as a district,hold these beliefs. I think the word "appropriate" is very important for our special education students. We are expecting our special education teacher to follow the regular education curriculum, but this can be tricky. For some of our students with special needs, this is not "appropriate" because they lack the prerequisite skills needed to make it appropriate. I understand this philosophy, and I'm not even saying I disagree with it, but sometimes it is not as easy as a few modifications and some differentiation. This is the kind of thing that is out of our control for the most part, due state requirements, it just seems like it goes against the hallmark of special education. I know the least restrictive environment is best for students, but there is a continuum of services for a reason.
I think most teachers DO hold these beliefs. If we keep in mind that all kids learn on a continuum... then growth happens on many levels.... What kids need to succeed is for someone to believe in them. Hopefully our school provides that for our students.
I do feel that our district holds beliefs numbers 1 and 3, but I'm a bit more skeptical about belief #2. Compensating for students' family backgrounds, particularly for those students whose families are currently experiencing crisis, is very difficult. I look at it from a Maslow's hierarchy of needs viewpoint. Asking a student who doesn't know where he will be sleeping on a daily basis to make sure he begins every sentence with a capital letter just doesn't make sense. I'm more hopeful about compensating for some environmental factors, such as lack of background knowledge. But a child who is not having his basic needs met at home requires more than what we can address through curriculum.
I am interested in the schools, that in spite of holding these three common beliefs, did not see significant improvement. Did those schools fail because of something else. Is something happening in the schools that do not show improvement that we can really measure. I have always been interested in the success stories of teachers and schools, who against all odds seem to succeed. Replicating the success seems to be the real problem.



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