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Superintendent wants schooling that emphasizes effort over inna

By Edie Grossfield

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

In his efforts to close persisting achievement gaps between students in Rochester public schools, Superintendent Romain Dallemand has set in motion a process to change the way teachers and parents think about education.

He hopes the community will embrace a different model of education that emphasizes effort over innate ability. The model comes from the Efficacy Institute in Waltham, Mass., a nonprofit agency founded in 1985 that promotes education reform.

Dallemand says research supports the model, and it has proven successful in closing achievement gaps -- what he calls the "opportunity gap" — in other districts.

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The Efficacy Institute training is one part of Dallemand’s evolving five-year plan for raising student achievement. Also to be incorporated in the plan are recommendations from the Education Development Center, of Newton, Mass., presented Tuesday night.

The district has spent $90,000 since September to train six staff members and four community members — including two school board members — to be Efficacy Institute trainers. The first teachers to be trained work in the seven schools with the highest number of students who need math and reading interventions: Century and John Marshall high schools; John Adams Middle School; and Bamber Valley, Franklin, Gage and Riverside Central elementary schools.

Eventually, all of the district’s 1,100 teachers will receive the training. In addition, 50 parents are signed up for two Efficacy Institute classes on Thursday. The classes are free and will show parents how to reinforce the model at home — basically, how to support and positively motivate their children to progress in school. Four more parent classes are scheduled for April 17-18.

‘Paradigm shift’ for teachers

Lenoch-Craft jokes with colleagues that she’s in the midst of a "mid-life paradigm shift," causing her to rethink her own 36 years of teaching methods.

Lenoch-Craft recently learned the Efficacy Institute model of education and she’s now a believer.

"What you learn in this efficacy training is that there are two ways of working with students, or two belief systems," Lenoch-Craft said. "One is that we all are born with an innate ability. So, some of us have it, some of us don’t."

On the other hand, the Efficacy Institute model assumes that all children who can learn to speak by age 3 or 4 have the ability to achieve at high levels. They just need to be positively motivated to work hard and they need to know how to get help, Lenoch-Craft said.

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She described a cycle in which students receive motivation to put forth effort. When they improve their grades, they become more confident, which in turn, makes them want to put forth even more effort. And so on.

Teachers using the Efficacy model know their students’ proficiency levels. They give assessments throughout their course period and carefully study the results.

"And from that data ... you really get in and start peeling the onion back," Lenoch-Craft said. "Why is the data showing us what it’s showing us? Once you have your feedback, you look at what strategies you can use to address the needs of students."

Lenoch-Craft also said that teachers using the Efficacy model encourage their students to develop their own strategies for improvement.

"Part of it is teaching kids that ‘OK, you don’t understand this part of your algebra assignment. I’m not going to go home with you tonight. What could you do or who could you ask or where could you go if you get stuck?’" she said.

Once strategies are developed and executed, the cycle for teachers and students begins again.

However, Lenoch-Craft cautioned that for the Efficacy model to work, teachers must have the time to study and discuss assessment data. She said she’s not sure whether the district currently provides enough staff development time to make that work.

Other districts benefited from model

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Jeff Howard, who founded the Efficacy Institute, says that "smart is not something that you just are; smart is something you can get."

In a 1997 interview, he said he always wondered why some kids who were smart on the playground were dumb in school.

"The same kids who were terrible students, even objects of ridicule, in the classroom could be articulate, witty, and intellectually dangerous outside of school — I mean, they could really go after you with mind games," he said. "That didn’t add up, and it always troubled me."

He realized that the students who were falling behind weren’t serious about academics while others were making a real commitment, he said.

The Efficacy Institute has helped districts in other parts of the country close achievement gaps, Dallemand and other Rochester public schools officials say.

For example, in the district of Palm Beach County in Florida, schools using the Efficacy model between 2000 and 2003 saw an average 25-point gain in the percentage of students achieving proficiency in math, according to the Efficacy Institute’s Web site. The district overall, however, saw only a 3-point gain.

The institute discourages the traditional model of education, which tends to group students according to ability and assumes that children are either smart or not, said Christina Streiff, the district’s staff development coordinator and an Efficacy Institute trainer.

"We’re all raised to think some kids have it and some kids don’t," she said. "You hear parents say all the time, ‘this is my smart one, and this is my athletic one.’ ... But we want kids to know that smart is something you get, it’s not something you are. And, we have to teach kids that when something is difficult, it just means you need to apply more effort."

Efficacy Institute

  • Nonprofit education consulting agency based in Waltham, Mass.
  • Founded in 1985 by Jeff Howard, a social psychologist who earned his doctorate degree at Harvard University.
  • The institute has trained more 30,000 educators, parents and community leaders in more than 50 school districts around the country, according to information on its Web site.

Key elements of the Efficacy model

  • The mission: proficiency for all students
  • The belief that all students can learn
  • Data-driven continuous improvement in the classroom
  • Parent involvement
  • Motivate students to put forth the effort
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