Greed Is Good

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit the Edward Brooke Charter School in Boston. My reason for going to visit was to better understand how this high-performing school designs their educational program and their professional development protocols to generate strong results. And by strong results, I mean really strong results. In Spring 2011, one hundred percent of their graduating students (eighth graders) scored proficient in both ELA and Math.  That is not a typo. At least last year, the Brooke has achieved universal proficiency—a benchmark that most people consider impossibly high. This is with a population of students that is 78 percent low-income.

So, what is their secret? As you’ve heard many times before, there is no ONE thing that accounts for their success. Rather it is a combination of familiar components: strong leadership, consistent use of data, relentless focus on quality teaching (and on making teachers even stronger), high expectations for all students for both academic and behavior and, of course, expanded time. To my mind, then, there is no “secret”; this school simply practices what we already know to be “best practices.”

Even when there are no surprises about practice, though, I always manage to pick up some new insights into what it is like to work and learn in a school that continually strives for excellence. And yesterday was no exception. In a conversation with one teacher, she noted the following: “I used to teach in a school that had a traditional school day [of 6 hours]. Yet, I found that the days seemed to drag a bit in that school, while here [with an eight-hour day] the time seems to zip by.” She then went on to explain that because the expectations for performance are so high and because each minute of the day is held as precious, there never seems to be enough time at the Brooke.

What I took away from her comment is that what drives one’s perception of time can be the urgency with which one approaches it. If one feels a constant pressure to educate students to their highest potential, then you become greedy for time and you are much more likely to see it slipping too quickly through your grasp. Here’s hoping that more and more schools find ways to satisfy their teachers’ greed for more time.