Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The 2005 Charles H. Thompson Lecture-Colloquium Presentation: Schools at Work: Targeting Proficiency with Theory to Practice

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The 2005 Charles H. Thompson Lecture-Colloquium Presentation: Schools at Work: Targeting Proficiency with Theory to Practice

Article excerpt

Profound problems in public schools require solutions that are often difficult to implement. Although we, as a society, see the future embodied in the students, our promise to educate them is often not reflected in our practices. A lack of will is evident. The following article explores the notion of "schools at work" and provides strategies grounded in theory that can be applied to practice. It illuminates and crystallizes themes of emerging leadership, the complexities of school life, collaboration and parental involvement, teacher quality, the underpinnings of accountability, and the human science perspective. The article describes how a principal subjectively and personally "lived" the experience of No Child Left Behind while targeting proficiency.


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.. .It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.

(Secretan, 1997, p. x)

The "deepest fear" described in this passage is a theme that emerges when principals are confronted by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002) mandate to improve the achievement of students by reaching adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets. Many principals are disillusioned when the support they need does not materialize. Forced to make decisions concerning school improvement, principals can draw from past experiences-both personal and professional-while discovering hidden qualities within themselves. Their initial perceptions change as the work of school improvement progresses.

The literature is replete with strategies, processes, research models, and templates for school improvement, but little is truly known about the journey to AYP, the effects of NCLB on teachers and staff, those serendipitous flashes of confidence, the complexities of school barriers, the signs and signals of transformation that springboard the school forward or cause backsliding, the capacity of school staff, and the principal's leadership. Many educators are turning to the human sciences to find departure points, comfort, and ways to cope with today's mandates.


Concerns about the quality of education for minorities and the poor have intensified, and issues related to No Child Left Behind dominate many conversations. NCLB is designed to raise the academic achievement of all students and close the achievement gap between groups of students that historically perform poorly and their better-performing peers, while imposing deep undeniable changes on public education in America. Each year, states release lists of schools and school districts that have not made AYP to improve achievement during the past year.

In the past, schools were appreciated for diversity; today, they are forced to make every child the same. Textbook companies monopolize the markets in various states, and statewide curricula are becoming the norm. Educators know that students do not fall into the parameters of Thorndike's scientific management theories (Thorndike, 1910). They also know that schools cannot be run like factories with producing identifiable end products. The means to the end cannot be the same for all children.

Controversies center on the fact that efforts to improve learning for minorities, low-income, and poor children have had modest and mixed effects on the outcomes. Nonetheless, educators are talking and are deeply concerned about news reports and data from local, state and national tests means that failure is unacceptable, and the powerful barriers to success must be addressed.

Kozol (2005) speaks of the poor progress made toward providing equal educational opportunities for all children since the second Decision of Brown v. the Board of Education (1955). …

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