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POCKETS OF EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE

The goal is to understand what makes successful Abbott schools successful – whether certain characteristics of students, schools or communities are correlated with success; and, if they are, to create a model of educational excellence based on those characteristics and a strategy for replicating that model in less successful schools.

Pockets of Educational Excellence addresses the need for improvement in New Jersey’s “special needs school districts,” its former “Abbott districts,” not by focusing not on their troubles or failures, but rather by focusing on their strengths and the successes taking place in a number of their schools – their “pockets of educational excellence.”

The Abbott remedies, a series of education reforms including parity funding, whole school reform, high quality preschool, supplemental programs to meet disadvantaged students’ special educational needs, and funding for improved school facilities, were first instituted in 1997-98. These reforms are beginning to show results, with academic proficiency levels in the elementary grades rising in the former Abbott districts at a much higher rate than in the state as a whole. But the proficiency levels, and the rate of improvement in student performance, remain widely divergent among Abbott districts and among schools in each district.

Pockets of Educational Excellence is focusing on high-performing schools in formerly Abbott districts in an effort to learn from their success. The objective is to determine whether those strengths and successes can be replicated in other schools in Abbott districts and, indeed, elsewhere in the state and the nation. IELP is examining student, school and community characteristics of selected schools, and considering three interrelated issues: (1) what characteristics of the students, their families and their communities, are correlated with the schools’ success, and specifically whether demographic characteristics such as ethnicity, English proficiency, or the date of immigration are correlated with school success; (2) what school characteristics, such as teaching staff qualifications or tenure, leadership style or instructional program (including whole school reform model), are correlated with success; and (3) the degree to which any of these characteristics can be treated as elements of a successful school program, and replicated in other schools that have been less successful with comparable student populations. One aspect of the project is an inquiry into whether any of the successes in the excellent schools can be attributed to any of the Abbott reforms. But the project is broader: its central question is whether excellent, high-performing schools in Abbott districts can point the way toward successful systemic reform.

This will be part of a multi-year project, the ultimate goal of which will be to work with less successful schools to implement the replication model. If the project is successful and replication proves feasible, the potential for educational improvement in New Jersey’s Abbott districts and elsewhere would be enormous.

The project began in Spring 2005 continued through Summer 2007. The project culminated in a report setting forth the findings and conclusions and, if possible, a model and strategy for replication. The report was shared with each of the schools included in the study, as well as their districts and the New Jersey Department of Education, distributed to organizations and individuals with interests in education issues, and publicized to the general public.

A full copy of the report is available at: http://ielp.rutgers.edu/docs/poe.final.pdf