A good story in the Times about the growth and success of Mercer Middle School by reporter Brian Rosenthal. What's interesting about this story is the subtext - namely, that Mercer has raised its achievement level by going off the district script. To whit:
- Mercer didn't follow the Strategic Plan. That's not in the story but when Mercer was being extolled at the Seattle Channel forum on the Strategic Plan at Town Hall earlier this year, the question was asked if this work done at Mercer fell under the Strategic Plan directives. The answer was no.
- This story explains:
There have been some bold moves, such as scrapping the district's mandated math textbook in favor of a specialized curriculum built to the same state standards.
While the district requires middle schools to use Connected Mathematics Project textbooks, Mercer decided those books were too reading-intensive for its large number of students whose native language isn't English. So school officials decided to supplement the district model with whatever resources they thought would best help students meet state standards.
Yup, go off-script with math and create your own hybrid math curriculum and see what happens. (But, to my knowledge, Mercer doesn't have an official waiver. How many other non-waiver waivers are out there?)
- Better yet,
The grasp that Ettinger held his students in represents part of the core Mercer teacher philosophy: Lead with energy and joy. Move quickly. Respect students and ask them to work hard to meet high expectations.
They also use data to identify struggling students early and place them into a structured intervention plan. Those students get extra instruction tailored to their needs.
Most important, teachers work together. The faculty is grouped into teams that meet weekly to discuss individual students and coordinate lesson plans, and all of them gather for a full day every two months to discuss broader strategies.
Sound familiar? Haven't we heard from Finland that teacher collaboration is key? Making learning active?
What about the outcomes from Everett and Tukwila for direct interventions for struggling students?
It is the basic hard, intimate work of teaching with some flexibility for the staff who knows their students best. But then there's this:
Meanwhile, a School Board committee is working to adopt policies that would give schools more flexibility in curriculum and instruction.
Yes that's true, but as Betty Patu asked at that meeting, "What if half the schools wanted this flexibility?" The answer was a quick, "Well, it's up to the Superintendent." But what if half the schools had a good reason for wanting flexibility? Would the Superintendent allow that or not?
This is great for Mercer (and kudos to all involved) but the district does NOT have a great track record on being able to assess strategies that work and get them into other schools quickly.