A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Best schools powered by sensible, practical actions that obtain the desired results

By Dr. Keen Babbage
Special to KyForward

For over a century, perpetual efforts have been made to reform public education. Apparently, these reforms are never satisfactory because each one is followed by yet another.

The Best School, my latest book release published by Cherrymoon Media, has a word about top-down, bureaucratic, trendy, politically correct school reform: no.

Such efforts, usually seasoned with good intentions, rarely see results.

The best school is not powered by intentions. The best school is powered by sensible, practical actions that get the desired results. Every school can get great results.

The best school is not one unique, isolated academic oasis which no other school can equal. The best school is not the result of a competition or a ranking. The best school is the product of a way of thinking, of leading, and of teaching that results in attaining “bestness.”

Education is of, by, and for people. Education, at its best, is an authentically human and humane endeavor. Education is not an assembly line process, a pre-fabricated set of scripted procedures, or a formula.

Education does not have the problem of too little data. Schools can mistakenly think that education is about numbers. Education is about people learning. Numbers can help guide decisions and actions, but there should not be a dictatorship of excessive data.

The best school has very high standards, including a demanding grading scale that finds it unacceptable to endorse a grade of 60, 65, or 70 percent as passing. To accept that would mean that a student passes a class without knowing 40, 35, or 30 percent of the required material. The best school boldly asks, “Where else in society would a grade of D be tolerated? Are employers satisfied with D-level work from employees?”

At the best school, teachers pay attention to details. Details such as spelling, turning work in on time, and doing all assignments completely are non-negotiable.

At the best school, students know that when they do what is wrong they will be disciplined per policies and procedures. Students also know that when they consistently do what is right they do not merely avoid discipline actions; rather, they are recognized and rewarded. This is capitalistic. This is effective.

Many teaching trends are temporary at best, counter-productive, destructive wastes of time and money at worst. The best school uses a superior combination of teaching methods that have always worked plus very selective, proven innovations.

The best school does not impose superficial professional development on teachers. At the best school, every effort is made so their time is devoted to teaching which causes learning. Classroom instructional time is not interfered with by avoidable public address system usage, optional phone calls, or removing students from class for non-instructional activities.

The classroom is the beating heart of the best school. All educators who work at the best school, but who are not full-time classroom teachers, spend meaningful time each day in classrooms.

Many interest groups, community organizations, political parties, parents, business leaders, and others express general concern about current educational results. These people would like to help schools improve and that honorable goal has merit.

For that goal to be reached, though, they must know the current school reality, especially in classrooms. That reality provides the only valid starting point for serious consideration of how to improve a school. To know that reality, it is imperative to spend time in schools, particularly in classrooms.

Education managers plus elected officials who make decisions about education can substitute teach or co-teach occasionally.

The best school is a place of purposeful action based on realistic appraisal of what works best to accomplish what matters most. School matters. Education matters. Learning matters. Being the best matters, and being the best certainly is possible. Persist. Be the best.


Dr. Keen Babbage retired in 2016 from a 27-year career in public education. He has written 20 books about education, including The Best School: Practical Ideas on What Really Works in Education, published in November 2016.

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