Book Review: Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap

In preparation for our upcoming conversation with Rick and Becky DuFour on the steps that schools can take to develop effective systems of intervention that reach beyond the classroom, I just finished reading their newest book, Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap.

Here’s my review:

I’ll never forget the day that I interviewed to work at Salem Middle School almost six years ago.  “We’re planning on creating a professional learning community,” then principal Matt Wight said to me, “and we’re going to use Professional Learning Communities at Work as our guide.”

Wanting the job at Salem very, very badly, I stopped by the Barnes and Noble on the way home to pick up what has turned out to be one of Rick DuFour’s most popular titles.  I figured reading and reviewing it over the weekend would be a good way to impress the new bossman. 

Not only was my principal impressed, it wasn’t long before I fell in love with DuFour’s vision for schools.  Throughout PLCs at Work, DuFour argues that the key to improving education rests in the hearts and minds of classroom teachers working collectively to study their practice.

That’s an easy argument to embrace for a teacher-leader type like me who is proud of what I know and can do!

But I’ve got to say that I’ve spent parts of the past six years incredibly frustrated because even though our school has worked hard to polish our collaborative practices, we’ve struggled to craft the kinds of school-wide systems of intervention that DuFour briefly mentioned as the key to success in PLCs at Work

Intervention—for struggling learners and high achievers—has primarily remained the job of the classroom teacher in our school, and that’s gotten progressively harder because our classrooms seem to get more diverse every year.  Differentiation alone just isn’t enough to meet the needs of everyone.

I suspect that our struggles are not unique, though.  After all, until recently, there haven’t been many practical examples—in DuFour’s early writings or in schools and districts—of systems of intervention that principals and district level leaders could use as models. 

Which is why Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap is such a valuable contribution to the literature surrounding the professional learning community movement.

Written by Rick and Becky DuFour—in partnership with their longtime colleagues and friends Bob Eaker and Gayle Karhanek—Raising the Bar is designed to give every school an “intervention role model” to look up to

Providing tangible proof that systems for intervention are possible regardless of a building’s size or demographics, each chapter explores an individual school and/or district that has risen to the challenge of meeting the needs of every student.

Readers get a chance to look at the work done by nine progressive buildings, including:

  • Boones Mill Elementary School: Serving a poor, rural Virginia community, Boones Mill Elementary—the former professional home of Becky DuFour—has relentlessly aligned resources with priorities to produce impressive learning gains year after year.
  • Highland Elementary School: Serving a high-poverty student population, Highland Elementary used innovative schedules and interventions to pull itself out of corrective action from the Department of Education and into one of the top-scoring buildings in the entire state of Maryland in the span of five short years.
  • Prairie Star Middle School: Serving a relatively homogeneous, middle class population in the noted Blue Valley School District of Northeastern Kansas, teachers at Prairie Star Middle work closely with guidance counselors, the school psychologist, and building administrators to target struggling students.
  • Lakeridge Junior High School: Once the lowest-performing school in Utah’s Alpine School District, Lakeridge Junior High has had remarkable success in using interventions to meet the needs of a growing population of English language learners.
  • Cinco Ranch High School:  Focusing on the needs of freshmen, Cinco Ranch High—serving a suburb of Houston—became one of only four public high schools in Texas to receive the USDOE’s No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Award.
  • Adlai Stevenson High School: Having shown student growth continuously for over 25 years, Adlai Stevenson is one of the nation’s most successful suburban high schools—and the former professional home of Rick DuFour, Bob Eaker and Gayle Karhanek.

Detailing the specific steps that each school and/or district took when designing their systems for intervention, Raising the Bar is the kind of book that school leaders can sit down and learn from immediately. 

Need proof? 

I’ve ALREADY photocopied several sections and slipped them under the doors of the principals and teacher leaders in my building…an easy thing to do when intervention strategies are carefully described, implementation plans are outlined, and evidence of impact is included for schools that look a lot like ours! 

Raising the Bar is the kind of title that you’ll find yourself highlighting and annotating your way through, imagining how each intervention mentioned might be tailored to your specific school and student population. 

And take it from me:  by the time that you’re done, you’ll have a renewed confidence in your own ability to design and implement a system of intervention that reaches well beyond the classroom.

 

(Blogger’s Note:  Rick and Becky DuFour are good professional friends of mine and Solution Tree is paying me a bit o’ cash to moderate an upcoming conversation with them on effective school-based interventions.  You can learn more about my relationship with Solution Tree by reading my nifty new disclosure policy.)

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