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School of thought in Brockton, Mass.

In 1998, when Massachusetts first implemented new standardized testing that was required for graduation, administrators at Brockton High School learned that more than 75 percent of their 4,000 students would fail to graduate.

But over the last decade a small group of dedicated teachers have changed the way every class is taught. They began a schoolwide literacy program to reinforce literacy skills in every class, including math, science and even gym. The transformation at Brockton has been remarkable: Failure rates for that state test have dropped to 6 percent for English, and the school was featured in a 2009 report on exceptional public high schools by the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University.

Dr. Susan Szachowicz, Brockton’s principal, says, “I think the concept of ‘turnaround’ is one of the most deceptive words that you can use. Because it implies people from the outside leaping into the school to turn everything around … We did not fire all the teachers. We did work with a team that we had. And we had some pretty dramatic results.”


Brockton’s retired teachers devise a script for success


  • Ken

    Awesome, you are a breath of fresh air that I hope the rest of the world of education is watching and paying attention.

    Ken Jones, Fort Erie Ontario, Canada

  • John Simmons

    Excellent program. This provides what “Waiting for Superman” did not offer the American Public: examples of how the existing staff of public schools can transfrom their results and do it quickly at low cost. For more examples visit to understand how the staff and parents of eight failing schools in Chicago transformed their results in one to three years. John Simmons PhD Strategic Learning Initiatives

  • Majority Party of the Midwest

    Thanks for the reality hit.

    Obama and Duncan backed by corporate-US tell us the problem is bad teachers, teachers’ unions, and that schools chould be run like corporations. they even hold up the models of charter schools and privatization of public schools as models, even though the empirical evidence (the bottom line) shows that on average charters schools do not perform as well as public schools. Corporate-US is so shortsighted that their search for short-term profit supersedes their long-term needs for educated workers. Or, perhaps corporate-US just wants to outsource more jobs.

    This documentary shows how to improve public schools and guess what: it does not involve getting rid of the bottom fifth of teachers. Of course, blaming teachers is nonsense and in rankings teachers” rankings move substantially from year to year.

    (As an aside: why does Obama want to unjustifiably alienate his strongest union base? Is he really so stupid? Does he not know the facts? Does Duncan have him hypnotized? I for one am not voting for him if he keeps on the Bush road. Let the Democrats know they have to take positions that the majority of the people want, like no tax cuts for the wealthy and super-wealthy. No more torture. Ending wars. Less money for the military. No support for military dictators. Single Payer health care reform–true health care reform. These are what the pools show, despite what the corporate media’s talking heads will tell you. LOOK IT UP.)

  • Duckabushjake

    This is a similar concept to how The Evergreen State College in Washington teaches. Everything is integrated. It’s very simple, a natural way to learn, and it works.

  • ObamaSux

    Obama is an IDIOT!

  • Royuejio

    What happens to those students who are not admitted to Charter schools because they do not come from families that support their education? Will “public” schools become worse and worse as the best students and the best teachers move to charter schools? Is that the “essence” of democracy? Those that have motivation, money, supportive families, and personal attributes necessary for academic success get the best and those that are less endowed are taught by the leftovers?? Schools that are supported by tax payers are supposed to be equal opportunity institutions. Charter schools with teachers who are paid on a different scale from public school teachers should not be paid for by the tax payer. If Brockton Mass. can turn it’s school around without segregating the “able” from the “disabled”, any motivated school should be able to do the same.

  • James Hills, Ed.D.

    On Brocton High School. I agree. Most teachers are willing workers and mission minded. They get their jollies when students learn. I love them. Most schools, too, can turn around just as did B.S.H. However, to integrate math, science, literature, music, etc., we need to return to the basic concepts of Benjamin S. Bloom and use the cognitive taxonomy as our continuum for continuous improvement rather than the bell curve, grades, and senseless testing. James Hills, Ed.D.

  • dallas teacher

    As a teacher I liked what the school did and am amazed by their success; however I was left with questions. How did the school deal with the students who just flat out refused to participate in class, turn in work, etc.? How did they get the kids to come to school? How did they get the parents to care if their kids passed or not? With the kids I teach it is not a question of ability, rather willingness.

  • Kathleen Matchunis

    Super video, which shows how all subjects are interrelated. I think that reading, speaking and writing are the basic skills which all students should possess.

  • Joe Bialek

    This letter is in response to the media coverage of the successes enjoyed by Brockton High School in Massachusetts.

    I had the opportunity to view this video last night on PBS and one thing clearly stands out; leadership. A few other things came to my attention as well:

    1. The chief executive walking among the students and leading them with a personal touch.

    2. Teachers and students buying into the idea of integrating reading, writing, speaking and listening into the entire curriculum.

    3. Overcoming the objections of teachers who “don’t want to work this hard”. To paraphrase Chuck Noll after he cut one of his players: “It’s time for them to pursue their real life’s work.”

    4. The de-emphasis of sports and the re-emphasis of education as the primary reason for schools to exist.

    5. Finally and perhaps most importantly the exuding of enthusiasm which has become contagious.

    Brockton High School, in the words of Carly Simon {Nobody Does it Better} “baby you’re the best.”

    To this achievement I can only add a few suggestions:

    The public school system today continues to fail at educating our children
    both in terms of job training and citizen awareness. The most powerful
    country to ever exist continues to lag behind other countries when it comes
    the very basics expected of this institution. The reason for this is
    because of the bureaucratic non-incentives consistent with government waste.
    Teachers are not held accountable as a unit manager would be held
    accountable for their unit achieving objectives in a private corporation.
    They are also not rewarded financially for the success of their students
    when it comes to test results. And the biggest benefactor of all, private
    enterprise is not required to reinvest in an educational system that
    provides free training to future employees.

    The time for privatization of public education is long overdue. We as a
    country need to finally get serious about training and educating our future
    citizens. It is time to use corporate property tax along with personal
    property tax as a means of funding schools. Educational facilities from
    pre-schools to colleges and universities need to be converted to entities of
    private enterprise whereby an education is crafted as the finest product
    available to United States citizens.

    Every time I encounter someone in the workplace, I am reminded of just how
    much we have failed to properly educate United States citizens in the
    fundamentals of communication: reading, writing and speaking. Few would
    argue that the time is long overdue for the United States to “get back to
    the basics” of a fully functional education system. We need to exclusively
    focus on the development of communication skills from kindergarten to eighth
    grade along with annual testing that measures aptitude and interest.
    Training in mathematics should be limited to addition, subtraction,
    multiplication and division. Unless communication skills are fully mastered,
    there is no need to advance to high school.

    For those who graduate to high school, the emphasis could evolve into a
    curriculum of philosophy, sociology, economics, psychology, science and
    religious studies. Books such as “For Dummies” and “The Complete Idiot’s
    Guide” could be used to foster an understanding of different religions.
    Athletic activity would be strictly confined to cardio vascular exercises
    and all sports would be eliminated. While there would still be an emphasis
    on communication skills, the focus would now be on developing a foundation
    of basic knowledge so as to be able to graduate to college. Testing for
    aptitude and interest would continue through high school increasing the
    chances of picking the right field of study . Those not continuing on to
    college would enter some type of apprenticeship training for the purpose of
    learning a trade. For those who do graduate to college, the student would
    continue to study an advanced version of the same curriculum as high school
    but only for the first two years then they would complete their education by
    strictly focusing on coursework designed to train them in their field of
    study. Nearing graduation, internships would be required to begin the
    transition to the working world. Think of how different our society would be
    if our education system could just teach the fundamentals of reading,
    writing and speaking. Never let it be said that this was the time that the
    tide ran out on the American Educational System but rather was the time
    that schools, colleges and universities rode the wave of change and by so
    doing raised the tide of all our boats.

    Joe Bialek
    Cleveland, OH

  • RH

    Only a third of charter schools out perform public schools. The rest are either at or below public school. For the charter schools that perform worse than their public school counterpart, I’m not sure if there are regulations to shut it down like some public schools that are given a year or two to show improvement before it is shut down.
    If you look at the research done by Ronald Ferguson (a education and public policy researcher at Harvard) “How high schools become exemplary”, it is shown that these public school students outperform in standardized test compared to the state’s average. There are public schools that excel where some do not, the same goes with charter schools.

  • Anonymous

    Wow…this is encouraging. As a high school teacher, created a video series using REAL high school students for a district wide literacy program. It’s available for FREE. Here is the preview. IT saves teachers from having to teach these strategies and it works!!
    Too bad I didn’t have a principal or superintendent that understood what we were trying to do. They stopped supporting it!!!
    I then incorporated that into a workbook reality project so teens can build these very critical skills build while realizing the VALUE of their education and planning their futures.