These four beliefs inform our mission. We believe that:
1. Excellence in schooling requires a vigilant focus on learning - and, specifically, learning for understanding.
"Cover, test, and hope for the best" is an all-too-common reality in schools. In the best organizations, by contrast, people constantly think through important issues, aim for thoughtful and fluent understanding of the big ideas, and focus on core complex and worthy performances. Thus, excellence in schooling requires that teaching make big ideas come alive, that new understandings be "uncovered" and developed, and that transfer become the focus of all teaching of "content." Superficial coverage, teaching to the test, and assessments that ask only for recall or rote plugging in these are the approaches of educators who lack purpose or who have been allowed to lose their way. Ironically, their main defense that state tests demand such approaches is not grounded in "best practice" research on learning. Opening up possibilities, not closing off thought, should be the point of school, for the adults as well as for students.
2. All education is local.
There cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, learning, assessment, or school keeping. Learners, educators, and school contexts differ happily so. Playing to individual passions, talents, and styles is the way all effective organizations grow. Our mantra for schooling has always been: Standards, not standardization. Authentic Education succeeds in its mission to the extent that we honor the idiosyncratic talents and interests of our clients, while maintaining a clear view of our common obligations and goals.
3. Schooling needs to be grounded in more authentic forms of learning.
Students are both motivated and challenged by genuine intellectual purposes and performances, and schooling should focus clearly and unwaveringly on them. Alas, educators are too often distracted by the "audit" nature of high-stakes tests. They then end up reversing cause and effect: they spend all year worrying about the audit instead of meeting clear, powerful, worthy local goals not unlike the patient who practices all year for the doctor's physical instead of worrying daily about health and fitness. This is more than a belief: the research makes clear that the best schools have high standards higher standards than state standards and effective policies for upholding them.
4. Education succeeds if and only if everyone in schools gets constant and powerful feedback, and is obligated to seek it and consider it.
Planning is vital, but educators at all levels individuals in the classroom and the leadership team of the district make the mistake of ignoring the crucial role of self-assessment and self-adjustment based on feedback. Feedback takes many forms: student work, parent comments, state test scores, supervisory observations, peer review. It is understood at a common-sense level to be vital to any performance success. Yet, educators are remarkably averse to seeking out and using feedback when it comes to the classroom (as opposed to the band shell or the playing field). Feedback and its thoughtful consideration must become central to teaching, learning and school keeping. No syllabus or unit plan is ever adequate: intelligent, effective, and on-going adjustment against clearly identified standards is the only way to meet educational goals.