Educational culture

What is the key to a successful school?  The educational culture.

Think of the ingredients that make for a good school. Small classes. Well-educated teachers. Plenty of funding. Combine, mix well, then bake.

Turns out, your recipe would be horribly wrong, at least according to a new working paper out of Harvard. Its take away: Schools shouldnt focus on resources. They should focus on culture.

The study comes courtesy of economist Roland Fryer, an academic heavyweight who was handed a MacArthur Foundation “genius award” earlier this year for his research into the driving forces behind student achievement. Fryer gathered extensive data from 35 New York City charter schools, which generally cater to underprivileged and minority communities. He interviewed students, principals, and teachers, reviewing lesson plans and watching classroom video, to try and pinpoint factors that correlated with higher test scores.

His findings could add some new fire to the debate about what makes a good school. Fryer found that class size, per-pupil spending, and the number of teachers with certifications or advanced degrees had nothing to do with student test scores in language and math.

In fact, schools that poured in more resources actually got worse results.

What did make a difference? The study measures correlation, not causation, so there are no clear answers. But there is a clear pattern. Schools that focus teacher development, data-driven instruction, creating a culture focused on student achievement, and setting high academic expectations consistently fared better. The results were consistent whether the charter’s program was geared towards the creative arts or hard-core behavioral discipline.

If small classes, credentialed teachers, and plush budgets aren’t adding up to successful students, then what is? Fryer measured school culture in a way no academic before him had. He looked at the number of times teachers got feedback. The number of days students got tutored in small groups. The number of assessments for students. The number of hours students actually spent at their desks. Each correlated with higher student scores.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, schools that claimed a “relentless focus on academic goals” also tended to produce better test scores. Schools that focused on self esteem and emotional health? Not as much. (Sorry Gen Y.)

via Everything You Know About Education Is Wrong – Atlantic Mobile.

Perhaps this is one reason why homeschooled children tend to do so well.  In addition to following what is usually a more substantive curriculum, homeschooled children have lots of interactions with their teachers!  And they are indeed immersed in an educational culture.

HT:  Stewart Lundy

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I love this. I think of Marva Collins of Westside Prep in the Chicago area who coined the phrase, “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. Any successful educational culture values learning for its own sake, holds teachers and students accountable, measures results in a meaningful way (not just standardized tests) and focuses on excellence and the desire to keep learning, keep improving and keep growing.
    We homeschool our boys with an approach called Classical Conversations and as much as we love this approach, the key is that there is a commitment to learning that goes beyond the curriculum material. It governs all of our life interaction.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I love this. I think of Marva Collins of Westside Prep in the Chicago area who coined the phrase, “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. Any successful educational culture values learning for its own sake, holds teachers and students accountable, measures results in a meaningful way (not just standardized tests) and focuses on excellence and the desire to keep learning, keep improving and keep growing.
    We homeschool our boys with an approach called Classical Conversations and as much as we love this approach, the key is that there is a commitment to learning that goes beyond the curriculum material. It governs all of our life interaction.

  • Rose

    As a longtime high school math teacher, I noticed students began to do less and less homework. The curriculum seemed to get watered down to whatever students could learn in class. A good antidote was to institute homework detention after school. The day’s assignment had to be done on a blank sheet of paper the student was handed.

  • Rose

    As a longtime high school math teacher, I noticed students began to do less and less homework. The curriculum seemed to get watered down to whatever students could learn in class. A good antidote was to institute homework detention after school. The day’s assignment had to be done on a blank sheet of paper the student was handed.

  • steve

    Wait! These schools most probably do focus on culture! They foster a culture of inclusiveness, equality, and diversity in a non-judgmental atmosphere where everyone is a winner. That way, when they get out into a world that doesn’t care about them or their self-esteem, they’ll be more willing to become activists than evil one-percenters.

    Mission accomplished.

  • steve

    Wait! These schools most probably do focus on culture! They foster a culture of inclusiveness, equality, and diversity in a non-judgmental atmosphere where everyone is a winner. That way, when they get out into a world that doesn’t care about them or their self-esteem, they’ll be more willing to become activists than evil one-percenters.

    Mission accomplished.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “What is the key to a successful school? ”

    Good students.

    Great programs and teachers will increase relative performance of students as compared to the same students with less opportunities.

    However, very talented students will still do better even with fewer opportunities and inferior instruction because they are auto didactic and will teach themselves.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “What is the key to a successful school? ”

    Good students.

    Great programs and teachers will increase relative performance of students as compared to the same students with less opportunities.

    However, very talented students will still do better even with fewer opportunities and inferior instruction because they are auto didactic and will teach themselves.

  • helen

    “However, very talented students will still do better even with fewer opportunities and inferior instruction because they are auto didactic and will teach themselves.”

    (That’s if they aren’t held back by having to teach the three others in their “learning group” [at least one of whom is totally uninterested] while the teacher wastes her time with the discipline cases.)

  • helen

    “However, very talented students will still do better even with fewer opportunities and inferior instruction because they are auto didactic and will teach themselves.”

    (That’s if they aren’t held back by having to teach the three others in their “learning group” [at least one of whom is totally uninterested] while the teacher wastes her time with the discipline cases.)

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    as I have asked before- give my best wishes and say hello to Mike Farris for me—
    As an Homeschooler (early ’80s) -I can say that my son is doing very well-
    Saying that- I must confess that I no longer recommend to those who ask- that the young go to universities – unless they are of the ilke of USMA-USAFA-USNA – CGA- or Hillsdale- or Patrick Henry –
    Start your own business or learn on the job-
    Carol-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    as I have asked before- give my best wishes and say hello to Mike Farris for me—
    As an Homeschooler (early ’80s) -I can say that my son is doing very well-
    Saying that- I must confess that I no longer recommend to those who ask- that the young go to universities – unless they are of the ilke of USMA-USAFA-USNA – CGA- or Hillsdale- or Patrick Henry –
    Start your own business or learn on the job-
    Carol-CS

  • Jacob C

    Well, the public schools are caught between the left, which sees schools as jobs programs, and the far right that would defund public schools with a vague promise that “the market” will provide affordable but good education to all. And no politician, left or right, is likely to say that the problems with the schools start in dysfunctional homes. The left has pushed for many of the things that have led to broken, dysfunctional families. The right tells their voters that they will cut the taxes that go to education, and they have no solution other than tell schools to “do more with less.” I have heard some of these alledgedly socially conservative politicians go on and on about how most of the problems in schools are due to “bad teachers.” No one admits that most things good or bad start in the home.

    Sometimes the anti-achievement mentality of the far left and the anti-intellectualism of the far right work together. My state has virtually eliminated programs for gifted students. There is still funding for remedial education, however. There is a lot of effort in trying to get an F studtent to be a D student. A gifted student is seen as an unwelcome distraction. Ambitious young people often think of leaving this state.

  • Jacob C

    Well, the public schools are caught between the left, which sees schools as jobs programs, and the far right that would defund public schools with a vague promise that “the market” will provide affordable but good education to all. And no politician, left or right, is likely to say that the problems with the schools start in dysfunctional homes. The left has pushed for many of the things that have led to broken, dysfunctional families. The right tells their voters that they will cut the taxes that go to education, and they have no solution other than tell schools to “do more with less.” I have heard some of these alledgedly socially conservative politicians go on and on about how most of the problems in schools are due to “bad teachers.” No one admits that most things good or bad start in the home.

    Sometimes the anti-achievement mentality of the far left and the anti-intellectualism of the far right work together. My state has virtually eliminated programs for gifted students. There is still funding for remedial education, however. There is a lot of effort in trying to get an F studtent to be a D student. A gifted student is seen as an unwelcome distraction. Ambitious young people often think of leaving this state.

  • kerner

    Jacob:

    Goodness. If it isn’t too intrusive, in what state do you live?

  • kerner

    Jacob:

    Goodness. If it isn’t too intrusive, in what state do you live?

  • George

    To Jacob,

    I agree entirely with you that the education problem starts at home. American family cultures of any demographic seem to have a certain level of disapproval for any form of book-learning (that is, if the American family retains any culture at all, besides the culture of “broken”).

    I would like to know what you are referring to when you say the “anti-intellectualism” of the right. Not that I might disagree. Just that it is a common accusation that is often left unexplained.

    Good day :) .

  • George

    To Jacob,

    I agree entirely with you that the education problem starts at home. American family cultures of any demographic seem to have a certain level of disapproval for any form of book-learning (that is, if the American family retains any culture at all, besides the culture of “broken”).

    I would like to know what you are referring to when you say the “anti-intellectualism” of the right. Not that I might disagree. Just that it is a common accusation that is often left unexplained.

    Good day :) .


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