No Excuses…But  Also…

No Simple Simon, Inadequate Approaches To School Improvement Either!!!!


By Joe Batory -- Written by request of the editors of the Fresno Bee, Fresno, CA.


Public education in America these days is dominated by a panacea and “quick fix” mentality. It’s certainly understandable that many citizens nationally want schools to improve. However, there are not and never have been any easy solutions to educational improvement.  H.L. Menken said it best when he noted that “for every complex problem there is a simple solution…and it is wrong.” 


Today’s political obsession with standardized test score results is an example of a

one dimensional focus that ignores many other parts of the equation for school improvement.  Meaningful change in education is a long term and multi-faceted project.  It takes lots of people inside and outside the schools working together with vision, consistency, determination, commitment, financial support and relentlessness.  This goes way beyond the simplistic test and create duress recipe that has been forced on schools via the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act. 


Significant educational change must be driven by a consistent organizational philosophy, i.e., a set of unwavering beliefs among school and community leaders that maximizes learning opportunities for pupils, enriches curricula, promotes quality teaching and school leadership, and works to engage all students. A thousand years ago, the Benedictine monks had it right when they philosophized: “Temper all things, so that the talented will be challenged, so that the average will not be forgotten, and so that the weak will not be left behind.”


Listed below are some philosophical points for any school or school district to consider in the quest for educational improvement:


1.  Engage the student body. Schools should be about fulfilling dreams for young people,

     about providing future direction and support in taking students wherever they want to

     go.  In that context, why is it that so many pupils either dislike or are disengaged from

     school?  Many schools need to do a better job of motivating their kids into joining the

     academic ballgame.


     Additionally, maximizing attractive opportunities for pupils in music,

     dramatics, art and sports, can pay great dividends in terms of school involvement.


2.  Learning doesn’t have to be boring. Often there is too much peculiar artificiality or

     dry content in the academic courses of study for many students.  Pupils from a

     high-tech, computerized outside world need find an equally interesting and

     challenging world inside their classrooms. 


     Linking school subject matter to the real world is also critically important. Students

     need to better see a connection between educational pursuits and their futures.  “State

     of the art” technical and vocational offerings can appeal to many students.


3.  Parents have been and continue to be the prime teachers of their children. Schools

     need to be more aggressive about getting parents to be educational partners with the

     school. Schools need to explore new ways to reach out to parents with resources,

     seminars and workshops that define and assist successful parenting and promote two

     way communication between home and school.


4. Prioritize a “world class” education for each student. Send staff out to other schools

    and to seminars and conventions to learn. Build research-based and other

    proven innovations into the curricula.  “State of the art” professional development

    training for all staff members should be ongoing.


5. Engage the community. Develop a mission statement and set of beliefs for all schools

    and the community.  Set up mechanisms getting key constituencies into schools while

    they are in session so that ordinary citizens can se teaching and learning as it happens.

    Build financially supportive business partnerships at the district level and for each



6. Cultivate and treasure “caring staff members.”  These teachers are your most valuable

    assets. They save the kids no one wants. The greatest teachers are those who never

    look at a problem child for what they are but rather for what they might become.


7. School leadership matters.  It ranks right behind classroom instruction as the most

    effective way to improve schools. Give principals “plenty of rope,” i.e., the freedom to

    innovate and take some chances with new programs.  Central Office and/or School

    Board micromanagement only wastes the talent, ingenuity and leadership of others.


8.  Value teaching. Classroom teachers are undervalued and underrated in American

     society.  Honor and celebrate the accomplishments of teachers who make a

     difference for their kids.


9.  Fight to get dollars for qualitative school improvement into our schools.  While it is

     true that money of itself cannot solve every problem, it is also true that for most

     successful American enterprises, money drives change and improvement.  Why

     should schools be any different?  Hold politicians accountable when they under fund




(Joe Batory was the superintendent of schools in Upper Darby (PA) from 1984 to 1999.  The school district serves a densely populated and diverse community of 90,000 bordering the city of Philadelphia.  Batory is credited with revitalizing the Upper Darby School District in terms of its innovative, comprehensive and student-centered efforts with students.

When Batory retired in 1999, the local News of Delaware County editorialized him as “a legend.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer termed him “a champion of education.” He is the recipient of the Lifetime Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of School Administrators and the author of three books on school leadership.)