Should I apologize for fancying myself a school-improvement nerd? I am that for sure. And while nerd usually has some unpleasant connotations in this world I guess it is still fair to say that I am one.

That is why it is a bit difficult for me to bring closure to the process I have been describing. One reason for that is that I don’t think there is closure to school reform / improvement efforts especially in schools with persistent needs.  For this reason, whilst the review process is largely done and now we are in the stage of finalizing the recommendations, there are plenty of lessons for those school leaders who also engage this process.

One I will allude to now and speak to mightily up the road is my wonder whether how, if, or ever, “support” from a state, regional, or federal agency has any positive, sustainable, results. What research I have begun to do thus far has not yielded much positive on this count. IF my continuous research efforts in this regard continue to be a dry hole then the obvious question is why?

We all deserve to have answers to this. NCLB, now RTTT and who knows what initials yet to be spawned continue to require that government agencies of some sort or another will invest themselves on one level supportively and perhaps on another level punitively (or so perceived by the schools or district under such lenses), into helping schools designated in need to improve their achievement.

But it simply isn’t as simple as their formulas would have you believe. In one of the schools where we are finishing up, on data analysis, we found that their African American population which in aggregate had not made the standard, was practically all also classified as Students with Disabilities. In addition, while the school was not cited for the performance of students with low economic wealth, 90% of these same students were also classified as such.

So were these children disabled? Were they underperforming because they were poor? Is poverty the ultimate root cause?

Covey speaks about one’s “sphere of influence”. Is it within any school’s power to overcome the consequences of poverty? Perhaps this is true in many instances, but can it be true, especially in the vile political rhetoric we are suffering nowadays, buoyed by terrible economic times that schools, of their own, with what resources they have, can universally make it all happen?

Some of you will cherry pick schools and school leaders who appear to have overcome the anchors of poverty for their school’s children. Some will point to dysfunctional public school systems and argue for charter schools or vouchers. By the way the research about their success isn’t too glowing either. And I even confess to some more than passing interest in their potential to be more successful than public school systems.

But now I come back to the school I describe above. They recognize many of their deficits. One solution they had put in place was to increase their school periods from eight to nine so that another period in the day would give them scheduling flexibility to provide more support services and to encourage more professional development among staff.

Then le Deluge kicked in, state aid monies were drastically reduced. Administrative and teaching staff  were slashed to the bone. And guess what, the ninth period? That’s right. It has been eliminated.

What is the message? If you say “Do more with less.” after I scream, I’ll say what “you’re” saying is that our governing and societal value system talks out of both sides of its mouth.

I did not intend for this post to go in this direction. I will point to other dynamics and creativity and mind sets and systems adjustments in the next post(s), but this is one mental model, poverty’s impact, that is an elephant in this room today .

Or maybe it’s about what we really think has importance.