New England Patriots: School Reform Model
Wanna turn a school around? Frederick Hess points out that quick fixes won’t work in and of themselves:
When we talk about SIG turnarounds, the four models include things like replacing half the staff, handing control to a charter operator, or “transforming” the school by replacing the principal and embracing instructional reform. All of these have promising elements, but all are likely to disappoint absent a more relentless, ruthless, deep-rooted willingness to create self-sustaining cultures of excellence where mediocrity once ruled.
Hess looks to the NFL–and our very own New England Patriots–as a model:
In the NFL, unlike Major League Baseball, teams are limited in how much they can pay their players. So owner Robert Kraft and Coach Bill Belichick couldn’t simply outbid other teams in building their 11-2 team. Instead of chasing players who are stars elsewhere and hoping their skills translate, Belichick has specialized in finding overlooked players who can excel in a particular role. Rather than high draft choices or big-dollar free agents, he has built team after team with cast-offs and low draft picks, and by taking full advantage of the skills that his players have. Thus, the Patriots have won three Super Bowls with a quarterback who was chosen 199th in the NFL draft and lineups studded with players who had been cast aside by other teams, frequently because they were deemed too small or too slow.
How does this translate?
It’s not about replacing half the staff with teachers with high value-added scores. That may be a useful jump-start, but nothing more. Sustained success requires building schools that constantly seek and sift talent, bending routines and teaching assignments to fit the strengths of school faculty and the needs of the kids, and transforming culture so that it changes the attitudes of new staff and students before they can change it. Today, I fear that most transformation efforts feel short on all these counts.
Some of the ideas are good, but only as part of a holistic approach. Yes, implementation often relies on dramatically ripping barriers down, but that isn’t enough. Real school reform is a long term project that requires constant attention. There is no panacea.