Great expectations represent more than just the name of a fine Charles Dickens novel. Great expectations for students form the foundational bedrock of all great school systems. For schools to achieve a systemic, reliable and consistent level of greatness, the work of transferring great expectations from rhetoric to action is central to the morally important work of education.
The first step begins with setting challenging, but developmentally appropriate standards for students. Grade by grade and subject by subject, standards are set in alignment with other global education systems to ensure that our standards are internationally benchmarked and competitive. What should a third grader be able to do in mathematics so that they are on pace to graduate college and be work ready? Such questions are at the heart of setting high standards.
While there is an educational art and science to designing an instructional system aligned back to great expectations, the more difficult part for any school system is in making sure that it is delivered to students with equity. That is, the expectation must be that every single child learns at a high level.
Here in Eagle County, we have a diverse population of students with a nearly 50 percent split of Anglo and Hispanic students. But, that does not mean we should have diverse levels of expectations for our students. Perhaps the most devastating thing a community can do to its children is to have great expectations for one group of students and then lower them for another due to race, language or economic condition.
Part of the American dream is that anyone in this country can realize success. We safeguard this important value by holding uniformly high standards for all students through our education system. A critical part of our community’s commitment to equity means that we must ensure that every child is afforded the same opportunity to experience high standards.
While having uniformly high standards for students are essential, it is equally important that we don’t let standards become “standardization.” All students can achieve tremendous success, but they need very different customizations to get there.
The best performing education systems in the world have systems that intentionally adapt instruction provided to students based on their progress. Many students respond well to the typical instructional approach, but some will struggle. A high performing system has a fail-safe system so that the educators know which students are struggling and thus adapts instruction (like using a different teaching strategy) or increases supports (like providing more intensive reading instruction) to make sure that they succeed in reaching the same high standards.
For students who aren’t challenged by the regular curriculum, a high performing system identifies ways to tailor instruction to these students through approaches like acceleration or exploring a topic much more deeply. At Eagle County Schools, we offer a tremendous number of dual credit courses with Colorado Mountain College. We have many students who graduate from our high schools with enough college credits to start college as juniors. This is effectively a two-year college scholarship.
For our English language learners, we adapt instruction to help them learn and make academic progress while transitioning to the mastery of the English language.
It is critically important that all younger students are challenged to achieve college and career-ready standards. And, as students get older and start thinking about their own hopes, dreams, talents and passions, it is important that we have individualize pathways to put them on trajectories toward being economically successful and contributing citizens of our democratic society.
We are working to dramatically increase the number of certificate-earning, experiential- and community-learning options for our students. Our goal is to tap into the abundance of talent and expertise in our community and turn it into great learning experiences for our students.
When it comes to high levels of learning and outcomes for students, there simply are no shortcuts or substitutes for instruction to high standards and a customized approach built to fit each student. At Eagle County Schools, we intentionally and forcefully reject many of the gimmick-approaches to better education. Instead, we are focused on those things that have a strong track record of success — internationally benchmarked standards like the combination of great expectations coupled with tailored instruction.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.