Mastery Schools in the Philadelphia area specializes in “turnaround schools”. As the article states: “Mastery doesn’t start new schools. Rather it takes over struggling ones from the Philadelphia School District and tries to revive them.”
It had adopted a “no excuses” model for schools, relying on strict behavior rules; also it adopted a procedural, direct-instruction mode for teaching math and other subjects. The results were spikes in state test scores upon the initial turn-around, only to find that scores plateaued after a few years. They concluded that perhaps they should try a more conceptual approach to teaching math such as the reformers like to see. The results were disastrous.
After year one of this change, Mastery’s test scores plummeted. The same was true at schools across the state — the new batch of tests was expected to be more difficult than their predecessors. Mastery’s braintrust noticed, however, that their math scores seemed to drop further than most.
The network’s leaders didn’t panic. They’d already accounted for some growing pains during this organization-wide pivot. Plus, there were all sorts of positive indicators in terms of student retainment, discipline trends, and teacher satisfaction.
Then the second year of test scores came out this summer. Little changed. Mastery schools were still, on the whole, performing worse than they had prior to the shift away from “no excuses.” The pattern was especially obvious in mathematics.
So they went back to a combination of conceptual and procedural, with the emphasis on procedural. Scores went back up. Of note is this particular quote:
” “Mastery has essentially shifted to a “what works” model. If students can grasp the conceptual knowledge, great. If they can’t or if they come to Mastery so far behind they need a crash course, teachers are free to lean on the “skills and procedures” approach.
” “We had swung one way. And then we were swinging another way. And now we were trying to find that balance in instruction,” said Holmes, the principal at Clymer. “
Refomers will undoubtedly shrug their shoulders and say “It’s because they were relying too much on procedures before and when they switched to the conceptual method they probably weren’t doing it right.
Whatever gets you through the night, I suppose.