Dr Robert J. Marzano’s Handbook for High Reliability Schools: The Next Step in School Reform provides a compelling picture of what schools can do to move to the next level of effectiveness in terms of enhancing students’ achievement.
Schools are not typically thought of as high reliability organisations, but nothing prevents a school from becoming an organisation that takes proactive steps to prevent failure and ensure success. Dr Robert J. Marzano defines a high reliability school as one that monitors the effectiveness of critical factors within the system and immediately takes action to contain the negative effects of any errors that occur.
To identify and describe critical factors that affect students’ achievement in school, researcher John Hattie (2009, 2012) synthesised close to 60,000 studies and found that 150 factors correlated significantly with student achievement. In some cases, schools have worked to improve their effectiveness relative to one, two or several factors. While those efforts are laudable, they represent too narrow a focus. All of Hattie’s factors need to be arranged in a hierarchy that will allow schools to focus on sets of related factors, progressively addressing and achieving more sophisticated levels of effectiveness. From a high reliability perspective, the factors identified in the research to date are best organised into the five hierarchical levels described below.
Level 1, a safe and collaborative culture, is considered foundational to all other levels. If students and staff do not have a safe and collaborative culture in which to work, little if any substantial work can be accomplished. In essence, level 1 addresses the day-to-day operation of a school.
Level 2 addresses the most commonly cited characteristic of effective schools: high-quality instruction in every classroom. School leaders must make sure classroom teachers are using instructional strategies in a way that reaches all students and are taking appropriate steps to improve teacher competence when this goal is not being met.
High-quality instruction is a prerequisite for level 3: a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Guaranteed means the same curriculum is taught by all teachers so that all students have an equal opportunity to learn. Viable means that the amount of content in the curriculum is appropriate to the amount of time teachers have available to teach it.
Level 4 moves into a more rarefied level of school reform, because it involves reporting individual students’ progress on specific standards. At any point in time, the leaders of a level 4 school can identify individual students’ strengths and weaknesses relative to specific topics in each subject area.
Level 5 schools exist in the most rarefied group of all – one in which students move to the next level of content as soon as they demonstrate competence at the previous level.
Dr Marzano’s High Reliability Schools’ framework provides a mechanism for school leaders and policy makers to effectively influence the educational landscape in Australia by taking the next steps in school reform.