Parents and community leaders have a substantial stake in the quality of public schools – but too often, high quality is difficult to identify.  Do the beautiful grounds suggest that this school has the resources to meet every need?  Do the charming student performances indicate that students here are accomplished and happy?  Is there a secret encoded in the bulletin boards that will reveal to us whether this is the right place for our children? In her September 24 presentation, Amanda Ripley –bestselling author of The Smartest Kids in the World – shared the wisdom gleaned over more than a decade reporting on schools at home and abroad. Slide2_0

How NOT to spot a world-class school:

1. Tour the facilities. It’s easy to be seduced by light-filled classrooms, state-of-the-art labs and lush playing fields.  But beyond a basic level of safety and functionality, the quality and beauty of school campuses matters very little to student learning. 2. Admire the technology.  Nearly all top-performing schools around the world have less technology, not more.  Though technology absolutely belongs in schools – because students must learn to use it to work and learn, and because education technology has tremendous potential to enhance and personalize learning – it matters less than great teaching and challenging work. 3. Watch the teacher. Excellent teaching is absolutely essential, and there are some characteristics of excellent teaching that are observable on a classroom visit: engaging style, well-organized lessons and space, respectful and inclusive interactions.  But for the most part, you can’t observe the outcome of a great classroom –  rigorous learning – by focusing on the teacher.

How to spot a world-class school:

1. Watch the students.  Are they actively reading, writing and problem-solving, or just sitting quietly?  If they’re talking, are their conversations about the work, or are they just chatting?  Whether quiet or noisy, students in great classrooms are engaged in productive struggle. 2. Talk to the students.  Ask them “What are you doing right now?” and” Why?”   Find out “ If you don’t understand something in this class, what do you do?” In great classrooms, students have a sense of not only what they learn, but also why and how. 3. Interview the principal.  Is she focused on great teaching?  What does he do to ensure that teachers have enough time and mentorship to improve their craft?   Like lawyers, engineers, doctors and other professionals, teachers perform their best when they have ample time to reflect, plan and learn with peers and mentors. Amanda Ripley spoke at a free, public event on September 24 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as part of the Houston A+ Challenge speaker series on education, sponsored by Chevron. Keep Learning

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