Ten years ago my school district identified twenty elementary schools, out of about 130, as needing extra support. These schools were identified based on more than just test scores, although that was one factor. They looked at high rates of students living in poverty, large percentages of second language learners, and schools with high mobility rates. My school was one of the chosen ones. At the time it was presented poorly by the district and in the press and we felt attacked. However it didn’t take us long to recognize the benefits we were being offered and get focused on helping our kids.
These benefits included a full-time, permanent substitute. This position made it possible for us to take advantage of professional development opportunities and have extra support in classrooms at times. We were required to choose a ‘research-based program’ to implement. My school chose literacy collaborative, which gained us a full-time, primary, literacy coach. This is also how we had the opportunity to move to the modified calendar.
All of this costs money. Some of it costs significant amounts of money. As a result there was griping from schools that were not identified about how we were getting special treatment. Which is true, we were.
Over time I sorted out my thinking as I justified the situation to teachers at other schools. My analogy became the idea of an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for a school. In a traditional school district all schools receive the same resources. The only reason for any difference between schools results from the difference in population size.
The concept of treating all students the same way in education is outdated. Even without IEPs we modify lessons, work, and behavior plans for different students. We know that they don’t all require exactly the same thing in order to succeed. But we still seem to believe that all schools require the same support and resources. If we are truly going to meet the needs of all children we are going to have to move beyond this thinking. We must be more thoughtful about what our different schools need and what we can do to make it happen.