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Catholic schools foster success looking ‘outward’

Bob Marzano tells the story of his son Todd, when in high school, being advised against attending college. Then, he saw the movie “Top Gun” and was inspired to become a pilot. He worked hard and is now a U.S. Naval commander.

Inspiring students to achieve beyond their expectations is what Catholic school teachers do every day in the classroom, said Marzano, co-founder and CEO of Marzano Research Laboratory in Englewood, Colorado, as the keynote speaker at the 48th annual Catholic Administrators Conference in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The theme of the conference was “Enlightening and Renewing the World,” inspired by Pope Francis I.

After four decades of research and the writing or co-authoring of more than 30 books, he’s formulated successful strategies or “best practices” that help schools boost student performance and become what he terms “High Reliability Schools.”

Five measuring sticks
He cited the five progressive levels of measurable performance within an HRS school: having a safe and collaborative culture; effective teaching in every classroom; guaranteed and viable curriculum; standards-referenced reporting; and competency-based education. Schools that practice the first three are really good schools, he said. Reform comes when mastering levels four and five.
Marzano said these strategies allow teachers to collaborate and reflect on what they’re doing, see the big picture, set goals, develop protocols for improvement and track growth.

He talked about standards-based reforms introduced in the United States since the late 1950s to keep up with other countries in math and science – including ideas introduced in “A Nation at Risk” report in 1983 issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education and “No Child Left Behind” Act in 2001. He said all had laudable goals but uneven implementation nationwide.

Now, there’s Common Core, again with its central mission to increase student knowledge and understanding with more rigorous standards.
While he agrees with the rigor of Common Core, he said its content is not as lean and mean as he’d like, and that’s where critics are focusing, especially with math standards offering multiple problem-solving techniques instead of basic algorithm. Countries most successful in educating students, Marzano said, go in depth in fewer concepts instead of teaching surface knowledge in many subjects like in the United States.

Delving deeper
In his opinion, America would be more successful by going deeper into less material. He emphasized the importance of strong vocabulary, which he called the “great equalizer among students.”

“I still think we are trying to cover way too much content,” and, not having the time in a school year to teach everything, teachers tend to pick and choose what they can cover, he said. And, because education is a state and not a federal charge, each state has different standards, so there is much variation in classrooms throughout the country.

The federal government can offer money to support educational standards but can’t mandate what is taught. This decentralization impedes us as a nation when it pertains to uniformed standards, and we don’t really know what exactly is taught in every classroom in the United States, he said.

Marzano knows incredible things occur in classrooms in every state, but how are these great strategies revealed and shared across school systems nationwide to capture imagination and inspire every student to achieve at a higher level?

“We know what to do – the variables have not changed,” he said about the core of education. The difference comes in on how progress is monitored to do better.

Catholic school advantage
Marzano said Catholics schools have many attributes, including building a sense of belonging to and forming community for students, offering simple human touch and positive encouragement to help students develop a growth mindset in learning and a connection to something bigger than self, which, he thinks, is the strongest and most powerful student motivator.

Connecting students to something greater than self is where Catholic education has the advantage over public schools, he said.
“The model of Catholic education is so powerful,” he said. “There’s good instruction” but it goes beyond that. Marzano mentioned the success that Catholic schools are having with his Discovery Walks of teacher evaluation, where improvement is collaborative between administration and teachers.

“You have that opportunity as Catholic school educators to reach that highest level,” he said.

Educators sing his praises
Dr. Jan Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said Marzano’s genuineness and leading-with-the-heart mentality are behind his research and everything he’s done. Principals who have used his strategies have seen that they work – they have had measurable increases in student learning.

“He truly wants to make the world a better place through education,” Lancaster said. “His strategies have made collaboration the norm at our schools,” and now they focus on student engagement. “I know now what student engagement looks like and so do our teachers.”
Lancaster said Marzano, who is Catholic, explained his research and strategies that students experience in the classroom for administrators “so we can develop the best possible culture we can for the students we serve.”

In addition to administrators from the Archdiocese of New Orleans, all Louisiana dioceses (including Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, Lafayette, Lake Charles and Shreveport), and administrators from Mississippi, Alabama and Florida attended the conference.

Marzano offers free resources and monthly email tips on his website

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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