My cousin, a long-time public schoolteacher in FL, with a great story of how a school can pull together, improve, and make a big positive impact on kids:
Regarding education reform...YES, it does work! Our school is living proof. Our students, parents, teachers, and principal all have been working very hard to bring up standards and expectations. It has been working. Last year we made AYP. Although some of our groups of students are still struggling in some academics, we are still working hard....NOT giving up.
Although I am retiring early next year, I will continue to do volunteer work in my old school, reading one-on-one with children several days a week. I love my school, my teacher friends, and the students. Mostly, I love seeing how my first and second grade students have been continuing to achieve over the years. Many of our students come from very high poverty, socio-economically disadvantaged broken home environments. It can be heartbreaking. HOWEVER, we focus on high expectations in school academic areas: Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies.
Sometimes it feels like there is too much testing...every week in fluency and reading, every other week in math. Monthly Benchmark testing in writing, math, fluency, and reading. It tends to wear the kids down. The first graders groan and say "oh no, not another test!" (I bribe them with fruit and cookies for after the test.) There is almost too much data. But it is useful because all through the year, you know exactly where your children are in math, reading, fluency, and writing. A more streamlined approach with less testing would be more sensible.
We have grants in our county for smartboards. We have RIF (Reading is Fundamental) programs to put books in each child's home. We have a Federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program for the schools on the east side of Alachua County so that children can learn about healthy diets. University of Florida students and County Extension Agents come in and help us teach about the links between healthy diet and healthy bodies.
We are working hard. Our school improvement program is amazing. Our principal is amazing.