Massachusetts high school succeeds with new focus on writing skills
Published: Thursday, October 14, 2010
Updated: Thursday, October 14, 2010 19:10
In the late 1990s, Brockton High School of Brockton, Mass. was a school that needed help. Three quarters of students failed state tests and drop out rates were high. However, in the past decade, Brockton chose to change their instruction methods. This method departs from the traditional school reform dogma that mandates reducing class sizes or school sizes.
The school began to focus more on writing skills in all classes in order to improve language arts scores on standardized tests, according to the New York Times. These efforts led the school to outperform 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools. Brockton's focus on basic skills was instrumental to their success. "What Brockton did was make sure that every student had the building blocks they would need in order to do well on the state tests," Kate O'Donnell '11 said.
Education professor Kenneth Dawes said that this method could potentially be replicated to improve other public schools. However, the key is that teachers need to have sufficient time to read students' work in order to produce results.
Megan Mills '14 attended Brockton High School. She also cited the emphasis on basic skills as important factors contributing to the school's improvements. "Basic skills were emphasized in every class," Mills said.
The idea that these improvements could be seen in other schools using similar methods is appealing to educators, especially in the current situation of the economy. More traditional school reform methods emphasize smaller school and class sizes. However, these methods can prove extremely costly as well as difficult to maintain. "With smaller class sizes, you have to find more good teachers," Dawes said.
Teachers played a significant role in the changes that occurred at Brockton. They established a school restructuring committee that emphasized basic language arts skills. The committee also encouraged teachers to underscore the importance of a college education. Many at Wellesley see the positive aspects of this method. "When teachers have confidence in every single student, students can be confident in themselves and work hard to achieve their goals," Molly Kasper '11 said.
Hawes also emphasized the importance of teachers to school improvement. "In any change like this, having teachers work together would be crucial," Hawes said.
In a time in which teachers unions are often demonized by the public, Brockton proves that teachers can be part of the solution. "I think what is most important in the Brockton case is not the size of the school, but the care and dedication of the staff. The teachers and administrators set out to improve the quality of education at Brockton High School and they worked really hard to make that happen," Kasper said.
However, Kasper also added that the union was not solely responsible for the improvements, saying that the cooperation of individual teachers was more of a cause of the changes. "I think the union neither helped nor harmed in the Brockton case, but in so many other systems I do see the teachers unions as an impediment to progress," Kasper said.
Mills also cites the school's principal, Susan Szachowicz, as an instrumental part of the improvement process. Mills said that even in a school of 4,100 students, their principal knew most students by name.
"She is an unbelievable principal," Mills said.
Still, more can be done at Brockton High School. The school's math scores are still relatively low. However, the administration is currently creating a team of experts to solve this issue. "I think they need dedicated, knowledgeable staff to focus on those areas and arouse student interest," Kasper said.
Although Brockton's methods may not be the most popular form of school improvement, their success has introduced new ideas that could change education reform in the future. "I think that Brockton is showing other public schools that they have the ability to change; which in this time of bureaucracy and administrators can sometimes feel like an impossible feat," O'Donnell said.