Wilson: Never Over-Promise on A New School

Wilson’s Learning on the Job is the best book for learning about academisation as it has been realised in the US. Once a CEO of an academy chain, Wilson’s book functions as a history of the Charter School movement in the US but also looks closely at the successes and failures of each provider.

One of my favourite sections is about the huge promises that all new school chains give, and how these are particularly audacious given the demographics the schools are often forced to serve. He notes:

At each school, the organizations’ executives promised parents clients, boards and regulators that students would outperform their peers in surroudning schools. What gave education entrepreneurs confidence that they could achieve a level of academic performance that eluded traditional public schools? In short, what would they do differently?

What Wilson reveals is that there isn’t a simple answer to that question though the eight most common things are:

  • certain types of grade/class/ability grouping
  • better use of time (e.g. longer days)
  • give more parental choice
  • have better school management
  • detailed and well thought-out curriculum and pedagogy
  • use new technology
  • give teachers lots of professional development
  • hold teachers accountable through rigorous and continuous data checking

It’s not a bad list. But it’s not particularly innovative either. Very many schools who aren’t academies in England were already (are already) doing this. And there are also – I would suggest – many not-so-good academies (and not) who purport to be doing these things yet are still failing horribly.

Still, it’s a start. And at least Wilson is clear about it. I love my (very much second hand) copy.