Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Outlier or Model?

Ocean City (MD) Elementary School last year achieved the NCLB goal that almost everyone, including me, considers impossible--100 percent proficiency in reading and math among its tested students. Oh, and buried in the article is the other impressive statistic--last year 72 percent of Ocean City students were rated as advanced, more than any other school in the state. There are many distictive elements in the school's program, many instituted by Principal Irene Kordick, a woman came to the United States at age 6 and managed to rise to the 5th grade without learning to speak or write English.
When she became principal of Ocean City Elementary 11 years ago, Kordick initiated a policy called Ask and Answer. The school abolished the practice of teachers asking questions, students raising hands and the teacher picking one to provide the answer. Instead, students pair off and answer the question between themselves.

In a kindergarten class on a recent morning, students recited the plan for a morning activity: "We will construct caterpillars and butterflies." Teacher Chris Lieb then said, "Think about what 'construct' might mean. Pair with your partner and tell your partner." Chatter filled the classroom.

In an adjoining class, kindergarten student Hunter Wolf peered through a framed sheet of transparent plastic held against a window, the better to gauge the day's weather. He turned to the class: "According to my picture, it is cloudy and rainy today." Another schoolwide rule dictates that students speak in complete sentences.

Teachers and students at Ocean City work according to an ever-expanding list of norms, a document that now runs to five pages. Conceived by Kordick and padded with contributions from staff members, the norms include broad directives about perseverance and choice as well as specific rules: Never stop working until the time is up. Greet others with "Good Morning" or "Good Afternoon."

It is an approach so distinctive, said parent Kim Holloway, that when students from Ocean City go on to other schools in the Worcester County system, "you can pick them out, one by one. They're attentive, they're respectful."
Ocean City does not serve 5th graders, in a rather unique circumstance. While many might look at Ocean City and point to demographics (the school is 90 percent white), or smaller class sizes (the average is under 20 students), or other factors, the truth is that Ocean City did achive very remarkable results, ahead of schedule and with a program that is encouraging success.

So the question is, is the school and outlier from which we should draw no conclusions or should schools undertake to examine what about Ocean City can be emulated.

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