What makes a school successful?

Why do some schools perform well while others don’t? What differentiates a successful school from unsuccessful?

Azim Premji Foundation, a Bangalore based NGO, tried to answer this question. They found something interesting.

During 2002-05 they measured the performance of 896 rural schools in economically backward north-eastern region of Karnataka — the area where the NGO is trying to improve education.

They came to the conclusion that successful schools are characterized by active involvement of teachers and parents. Teachers in winning schools organize additional classes after regular school hours and on weekends. They identify weaker children and provide extra tuition to them. Successful schools also show good school management practices.

Well, that’s understandable. If teachers do their job with passion they get good outcome. This is how it goes with any job.

The researchers also found that things like school facilities, teachers’ qualifications, and economic background of parents don’t significantly influence the school’s success or failure.

This is what they write in the discussion sections of their articles.

However, when I looked closely into the numbers that they had obtained, I noticed that the availability of drinking water, electricity, and usable toilets does have a strong correlation with the school’s performance. I think that this should have been reported because these issues are easier to solve than to deal with the commitment of teachers and parents. What can you do if teachers in a particular school don’t like their job, and don’t want to make extra effort to provide a good teaching?

I also noticed that more teaching materials were available in successful schools. I think that the presence of teaching materials strongly improves educational results, and this is a problem for rural Indian schools. Many of them lack basic equipment. Often, blackboards and chalk is all they have. There are neither labs, nor libraries, nor computers. How can you teach maths or science without a lab?

Another interesting fact that I found in their data, and that they keep silent about is the ratio of male to female teachers. In the successful schools it was 2.67 on average, while in the unsuccessful schools it was close to 1. In plain English, those schools perform best where most teachers are men. The authors either didn’t notice it or decided not to talk about it because the result didn’t look politically correct. I hope feminist fundamentalists will not bomb me for posting it here.

I am by no means trying to say that male teachers do their job better than female teachers (because my wife is a teacher and she will kill me if I say that) because I know many great female teachers. But there is clearly an interesting issue, and its reason has not been explained. Maybe there are economic or cultural factors involved. Is it possible that rural women in Karnataka have more work load in their households than men, so they have less time and energy for preparing lessons? Or there are other, more mysterious reasons? Who knows, maybe digging into this will eventually make life of rural Indian female teachers better. Hey, scientists, there is a research topic for you!

These publications are available on the APF website. The files are:
1. Factors Affecting Success in The Learning Guarantee Programme.
2. What Makes a School Successful?

Next, I wanted to see what was found in similar studies in other parts of the world. I opened Google Scholar, and typed “What makes a school successful?” To my surprise, it gave almost no results (Hey, social scientists, there is more work available for you!). A few publications were found but they were impossible to read. If you come across a scientific article that is unreadable you probably think ‘Wow, these guys are so smart! I can’t understand a word of what they are talking about.’ The truth is, these guys might be smart in their specific field but they are very bad in writing and presenting their data to others. Unfortunately, this is far too common in science.

One article however was excellent: Martin Haberman. Victory at Buffalo Creek. What Makes a School Serving Low-Income Hispanic Children Successful?

I highly recommend it even if you don’t work at school. I think it contains valuable advice for good management in any organisation. The author takes one school as an example, and describes 33 indicators which can be observed and assessed in a successful school. I will not write these 33 indicators here, it’s too much to write. You can get the article in the following link.

Published in: on 24/08/2011 at 18:42  Leave a Comment  

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