Written by Tom Deighan, LPS Superintendent
My manager at the supermarket would often chide me, “Tom, I don’t need you to work harder, I need you to work smarter.” That really ticked me off, because I would often work off-the-clock to get everything done. I feel the same way when I hear education reformers say that teachers need to work smarter and not harder. These are usually the same profiteers who promote class-sizes of more than 50 elementary students, so I struggle to hear them. Few of our teachers could work harder than they already do, and they are trained instructional experts, so I cannot accept they need to work smarter, either. Instead, we should give teachers better tools to do their jobs. That is what the LEAD School program is all about.
LEAD Schools started in Lawton last year after a summer of training for the principals of Hugh Bish, Pat Henry, MacArthur Middle, Central Middle, and Tomlinson Middle schools. LEAD stands for Leadership, Effective teaching strategies, Accountability, and Data-driven instruction. And while all of our schools did amazing things last year, the LEAD schools showed truly dramatic growth in student achievement. Hugh Bish and Pat Henry lead the way with nineteen out of twenty reading and math tests improving (seven of those by twenty points or more). The three middle schools each had a grade with double-digit growth in reading or math. This year, four more schools joined the LEAD schools: Eisenhower Elementary, Edison, Ridgecrest, and Lawton High. This is noteworthy in two ways: First, very few districts are selected for a second year by the Darden School of Business. And second, very few high schools are selected. This will bring our total LEAD schools to nine schools, or almost one-third of our schools, which nears critical mass for implementing LEAD district-wide, at least in some measure.
Our LEAD partners from Virginia visited each of our nine LEAD schools this week, and they were truly amazed at the results of our staff and students. These men and women visit schools all around the country and have backgrounds in research, in running districts the size of Dallas, and in organizations like Teach for America. They are not easy to impress, and they don’t toss compliments around willy-nilly. Darden’s chief reviewer told us, “If you saw such dramatic improvement (the first year), we can’t wait to see this year’s results!” She recognizes how much our teachers and students have accomplished. I cannot wait to see next year’s results, either.
The goal of the LEAD program is neither working harder nor smarter. It is simply about getting the right tools in the hands of our teachers. In this case, the tools are diagnostic tests and reports that identify individual student’s curriculum strengths or weaknesses. When a teacher can look at a student’s performance and immediately target the missing concepts or skills, then the teacher can more effectively fill that knowledge gap. One of our challenges is that such data systems did not exist in Lawton Public Schools when we started. District staff are currently building an entirely new data system for diagnosing learning at the student level. It is an on-going process, and with our teachers and principals’ guidance, it will simply get more accurate information into their hands to better serve their students.
I don’t know where my old manager is now, but I realize he was right about me. I needed to prioritize my time better in the dairy and freezer aisles. However, I recommend that critics of educators tread lightly before offering such advice to teachers. No one can outwork or outsmart a good teacher. Instead, let’s agree to focus on supporting our teachers effectively before we start questioning either their will or their wisdom.