Web Extras: Article sold Manley short

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Before reviewing your recent coverage of Manley’s ongoing professional development efforts (June, 2002), we’d like to emphasize the following facts, most of which did not appear in your article: As compared with four years ago when this project began,

nearly three times as many Manley students are reading at or above national norms (up from 7.5 to 20.8%); nearly 20% fewer students are performing in the bottom quartile in Reading; four times as many Manley graduates are going on to college; over two-thirds of Manley’s core content area teachers have been actively involved in this effort; classroom teaching has substantially improved (based on rubric-guided observations conducted by outside evaluators); Manley teachers themselves have strongly supported this intensive, classroom-based effort from the beginning. Surveys conducted in the fall and spring each year for the past three years consistently reveal that teachers have felt supported by this initiative, feel that it has helped their teaching, and that it has been a valuable and respectful project. Indeed, a group of lead Manley teachers were involved in the design phase.; Manley now has a recruiting edge in attracting talented new teachers. In light of these facts, it is our view that Catalyst could have— and should have— written a much different article. The truth is, meaningful school change— change that requires people to rethink long-standing habits and do things differently— is complicated. It is naïve to think it comes without some turmoil and bumps along the way. These day-to-day dramas may make for a juicy article, but those involved in the frontline work know that they are a distraction from the real story.

The real question here is not whether the Manley project hit some inevitable bumps, but (1) whether classroom teaching at Manley has improved, (2) whether this strategy is one that others should consider pursuing, and if so, (3) what can be learned from the work that’s been done.

Having lived with this project for four years, our answer is a resounding yes to the first two questions. Teaching at Manley has clearly improved over the last four years. Moreover, the work going on at Manley absolutely underscores our initial (and research-based) belief that effective professional development must be sustained, it must be classroom-based, and it should include external support. In short, coaching works and is a promising avenue for classroom-level change.

And the good news is, we have learned some things that might help the next such effort and that might inform larger issues. Most importantly, as a system we need to find ways to train and develop teacher-coaches to do this work, and we should consider creating a career track for teachers that demonstrate this skill.

In closing, we’d like to note that we know from experience how futile it can be to challenge an article that has already been released, since we inevitably look defensive and/or self-serving. So we are resisting the urge to quarrel with a number of the statements and observations included in the article and editorial that we think are simply wrong. Instead, we will limit ourselves to refuting what seems to be a principal Catalyst criticism; namely that we “rushed the planning.” That is simply not the case. A collaborative team from UIC, MacArthur, Steans, and Manley (administrators and teachers) worked for a year putting the plan together and getting it ready for implementation. Would more time have been helpful? Sure. Would it have made a material difference? Probably not, for the simple reason that our chief implementation issues stemmed from last-minute bureaucratic changes and obstacles that are hard to avoid regardless of advance planning.

At the end of the day, we are disappointed that Catalyst chose to talk about the unavoidable drama of this project, rather than about its impact. In our view, the Manley initiative-tension and all-represents one of the most powerful methods for genuinely impacting schools at a classroom level. And our results prove it.

Greg Darnieder, executive director

Steans Family Foundation

Katherine Flanagan, principal

Manley High School

Vicki Chou, dean

College of Education, UIC

Connie Bridge, executive director

Council on Teacher Education, UIC

Peter Martinez , director

Center for School Leadership, UIC

Robin Steans, trustee

Steans Family Foundation

Editor’s Note: The 2002 scores on the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency were not available when Catalyst’s article was written. Click here for an update.