Good teachers encourage their students to ask questions: Why does a plant need water? Why did Christopher Columbus sail to the New World? Why does 12 times 12 equal 144?
But what kinds of questions should a school district ask itself if it wants to improve student outcomes?
At ERS, we believe that districts should ask questions such as whether teachers receive enough time for collaborative planning, whether school budgets are reported transparently, and whether schools have sufficient flexibility over their people, time, and money. These questions and more are collected in our online self-assessment tool called Resource Check.
Bath Community Schools, a school district of 1,050 students in the suburbs of Lansing, Michigan, used Resource Check last year to assess the district’s resource use. This is part of a statewide initiative in which all districts with a “Priority” or “Focus” school are required to complete Resource Check or the related School Check once a year to inform their School Improvement Plan. After taking the assessment, the district leadership team—which in this case also included principals and a few teachers—was able to see a chart of their collective answers.
“I thought it was a pretty effective tool. It definitely opened up more conversations in our district about why we do things the way we do them,” says Bath Superintendent Jake Huffman.
Huffman points out that Resource Check did not provide the answers as to what reforms the district should prioritize—but that the process of asking different stakeholders to answer similar questions, “focused the conversation on why we do what we do.” For example, Huffman found that some principals and teachers assumed the district was doing things that they were not actually doing; in other instances, certain stakeholders weren’t aware of things the district was doing.
“I think the big piece was to put a clearer focus on what kind of practices we have in the district. It gets us to question, ‘Hey, why are we doing that?’” says Huffman.
As a result of the Resource Check conversation, Bath decided to focus more heavily on the following initiatives:
In the case of the elementary intervention model, Resource Check prompted Bath to look more closely at its use of time. They saw that students who received intervention in reading and math were falling behind in social studies and science—and they realized that those students were regularly pulled out of those same classes. So they designed a new intervention model with an “enrichment” block for on-track students, during which other students could receive remedial help.
These solutions weren’t in Resource Check—but the questions that prompted Bath to do its own investigation certainly were.