7 steps to better learning
Mar. 23, 2006
Basic strategies lead to spectacular results in Nogales I recently ran a
study that identified all schools that had at least 200 English-language
learners in 2003 to see what percentage of those students passed all three AIMS
tests (in English) two years later, in 2005.
The range was instructive: from a low of 9 percent, to a high of 84 percent.
The 84 percent was achieved by Gallegos "Basic" Elementary School in the
Sunnyside Unified District in Tucson, a back-to-basic school with uniforms,
significant homework, etc.
The distinctions between schools that did well and schools that did not do well
do not appear to be the amount of money available, but rather the leadership of
The really shocking data came from Nogales. Nogales is the plaintiff district in
the Flores litigation and has special problems because it is located on the
Yet five schools in the Nogales Unified District had between 60 percent and
78 percent of their 2003 English-learners pass all three AIMS tests in 2005!
I called the man responsible for this miracle, Kelt Cooper, the superintendent
of Nogales from 2000 to 2005, and asked him what he did to achieve these
spectacular results. Here are the seven most important things that he did:
1. Eliminate social promotion. When Cooper arrived, social promotion was
chronic. With a majority of the school board backing him up, he eliminated
it: Students who did not pass were held back. This met fierce resistance from
some principals and teachers. They are taught in education colleges that
students should not be held back because it hurts their feelings. But the result
of social promotion is a schoolwide atmosphere where actions have no
consequences, students progress whether they do any work or not, and academic
2. Summer remediation. With social promotion, there was no need for intervention
or summer remediation. Once they started holding students back, there was a need
to intervene so the students could catch up.
3. Advanced programs. Such programs were enacted for advanced students, for
example, in science and math for Grades 4-8.
4. Class size. Reduced class size from an average of about 40 students per class
to 22 students per class in the early grades.
5. Eliminate aides. Focused on hiring and supporting highly qualified teachers
in every classroom. By eliminating aides, Cooper was able to raise teachers'
6. Eliminate bilingual and emphasize English immersion. Cooper adopted a program
our department recommends called SIOP, in which the teacher posts a language
objective and a content objective for every lesson, and there is a list of
immersion strategies to use.
7. Eliminate interdisciplinary courses. Cooper was shocked to learn that math
was taught as a separate subject only 1.5 hours per week. He increased that to
one hour per day. Reasonable amounts of time were established for each separate
category of course work.
If Kelt Cooper could accomplish his spectacular results in a border school
district, then everyone can do it if they adopt his leadership strategies.
The writer is state superintendent of public instruction.