Events, News & Updates

Successful School Practices

I’ve just finished three different pieces that include lists of successful practices of inner city schools.

The first is a book, Sweating the Small Stuff by David  Whitman in which Whitman describes 6 schools ( 4 charters; a parochial high school; and a neighborhood public high school) that have narrowed the achievement gap and produced graduates who go off to college.

The book was written in 2008 and is available as a  free download. It has as a premise that all thses schools are paternalistic and while Whitman claims that’s not a negative, many of the schools’ leaders take affront at this description. But that’s another staory for another time. In chapter 9 after his descriptions of each of the schools Whitman teases out the 20 common factors from these successful urban schools.

The second is a more recent (September 2012) report from the Hamilton Project at  The Brookings Institute. Failures and Successes from Charter Schools is by Roland Fryer of Harvard and he procvides us with five factors that are successful in charters that can be applied to urban schools. They are in fact part of a school system project in Denver and Houston.

The third and most recent (November 2012) is a report from Public Agenda,  Failure is Not an Option, which describes 9 successful urban schools in Ohio and then lists the 11 factors common to all of them. (The nine schools included primary and secondary schools and were a mix of traditional public schools, magnet schools and a charter school.)

After reviewing the lists I found all three had many of the same practices. Some broke them out in detail  in the list while one provided the broad subject and gave the details in its explanations.


  • Focus on human capital Hamilton Project
  • School leaders provide genuine opportunities and incentives for teachers to collaborate and share best practices. Public Agenda
  • Welcome accountability for adults and embrace constant reassessment. STSS
  • Use unconventional channels to recruit committed teachers. STSS


  • Use student data to drive instruction Hamilton Project
  • Teachers regard student data as clarifying and helpful. They use it to inform instruction. Public Agenda
  • Assess students regularly and use the results to target struggling students. STSS


  • Provide high-dosage tutoring. Hamilton Project
  • Extend time on task. Public Agenda
  • Extend the school day and/or year. STSS


  • Principals and teachers do not see the lack of parent and community support as an insurmountable barrier to student achievement and learning. Public Agenda
  • Don’t demand much from parents. STSS


  • Establish a culture of high expectations. Hamilton Project
  • Principals and teachers have high expectations for all students and reject any excuses for academic failure. Public Agenda
  • School leaders and teachers set high expectations for school discipline and student behavior. Public Agenda
  • Build a collective culture of achievement and college-going.  STSS
  • Be vigilant about maintaining school culture. STSS

While many schools may claim they ascribe to every item on the list it is important to understand the kind of committment successful schools demonstrate to these practices.

List are good reminders but implementation is what matters most.