The largest public school in Massachusetts, Brockton High School, is raising student achievement thanks to the ripple effects of a school turnaround agenda spearheaded by a group of teachers a decade ago.
Following the release of Brockton’s dismal 1999 state test scores, a core group of teachers organized their colleagues around a back-to-basics focus, integrating reading and writing lessons into all subject areas. Every educator in the building—including guidance counselors—was trained to use a central rubric of what good writing looks like and develop writing lessons encouraging students to think methodically.
Additionally, academic tracking was dissolved, and a college-going culture was reinforced daily. As early as 2001, Brockton students began posting noticeable gains on state tests. This year and last, Brockton’s diverse group of students outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts’s 350 high schools on state exams.
Brockton High’s turnaround story bucks many popular themes in education reform. Although change might be more manageable at smaller schools, small is not requisite for changing school culture. Nor must restructuring come from the top down and involve dismissing staff. School restructuring at Brockton was grassroots—led by a group of unionized teachers—and only one teacher resistant to the turnaround effort was dismissed, after due process.
Brockton and several other large high schools are discussed in the recent report, “How High Schools Become Exemplary,” by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson. Ferguson says the one quality shared by all schools profiled in this report was that “achievement rose when leadership teams focused thoughtfully and relentlessly on improving the quality of instruction.”