Brockton High: A Big School That Works

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.”


  1. My favorite part about this post was that when teachers noticed a relatively low average on test scores, they came up with a solution to the problem. They did not let someone else do it, they took action and implemented a universal plan to promote the growth of their student population. I commend these teachers for their dedication and persistence to establish a program that works for their students and in the end produces success.

  2. I love that these teachers took action, and didn’t but the blame on someone else. I love how they took control of the problem and came up with a reasonable solution. These teachers deserve commencement for their dedication to the profession and their students.

  3. The effort of teachers here show master teachers at their greatest. This shows so much about the importance of collaboration, and how – when used – collaboration brings positive change. This effort came literally from the very heart and soul of teaching. I love that this is a cross curricular effort – and not just centered around 1 subject. We seem to get stuck on this at times – teaching “our” subject.

  4. I am very inspired and encouraged by this exemplary illustration of the professional learning community. The faculty of this school identified the key issues and problems, addressed them, created a plan, and implemented it. Awesome! This is why I became a teacher, to make a difference. There is definitely power when all educators come together as one to achieve a common goal.

  5. Last year was the first year I taught writing to third graders. I did not realize the task that lay before me. The goals the students are expected to meet by end of third grade in some ways seem crazy. What makes less since is we have a writing coach for our school yet no one came in to go over effective writing techniques for us to use. We had four new third grade teachers teaching; to me this would be a red flag at the board office for someone to come in and show strategies that work for teaching writing. Needless to say I struggled all year teaching, I did not know if what I was doing was the easiest way to explain the concepts of persuasive, personal narrative, informative, or self-to-text writing. I am starting my second year teaching writing and have learned new concepts from trial and error of last year. I still do not feel 100% comfortable in my capabilities to teach writing. I do go to teachers and ask questions along with finding acceptable writing samples from our state’s education web site. I wish as a grade level we set up an itinerary of how we could collect samples of writing from each content area, Along with going over strategies that work for other teachers who are successful at teaching writing.

  6. Well, I am in Beirut, Lebanon. we tasted the same experience with early elementry students this summer and the reward was great. Iqra Association is a non profit organization that provide class libraries in the elementry public Lebanese schools to encourage reading as a habit that will live forever with the child. Through activating the class libraries we discovered the inablility to read of huge number of students. we knew its not the fault of the students, rather it was the methods used in teaching reading. All i want to share with you is when we believe in kids and we find the right way to equip them they can perform and will perform greatly. Amina Kleit Elmasry, Iqra Association, Lebanon

  7. Most teachers would love to have the chance to do this sort of approach to make their school better and help their students achieve. However, one of the biggest problems is the state monitoring you “test scores” and tell you what you have to do then. Everything is really top down and you have no chance to develop a school culture of teachers collaboratively putting things in place that work for their school and students. Many school feel they are under a huge authoritarian top down dictatorship and they are allowed to only play at developing ideas that are effective in the classroom as they are limited to whatever the “plan of the year” is this year. That is not true teacher development as you are totally constrained by the “program” being forced on you and your school. The teachers are graded on how they meet some administrators idea of how things “should be” rather than allow and reward teachers for getting the job done, even it is not exactly as administrator feels it should be done. No one plan fits all. Teachers should be monitored and helped not always cringing in fear when they are being watched by the administrator. A negative atmosphere only produces negative results. Back off a bit and let the teachers do what they do well for the most part anyway and that is teach and meet to develop their plans to make sure it is working for all.


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