Do We Have A System Of Schools Or A School System?

Steven WeberBlog, Connect Better, Lead Better, Lesson Plan Better


  • School systems should all have the same end goal for students.
  • In order to achieve this goal, schools need to be aligned on what they are teaching and how they are preparing their students.

School systems are designed for multiple purposes, including but not limited to a) Opportunity to Learn, b) Student Growth, c) Develop Lifelong Learners, d) Teach Employability Skills, d) Develop Habits of Mind, and e) Empower Students to Become Well-Rounded Individuals, focusing on the whole child and not just mastery of academic content.

“The main purpose of the American school is to provide for the fullest possible development of each learner for living morally, creatively, and productively
in a democratic society.” 

—The ASCD Committee on Platform of Beliefs, Educational Leadership, January 1957

The quote above reflected a national sentiment in the late 1950s.  If you asked a dozen educators in your school system to state the main purpose of the school system, could you find consistency across schools?

If students in a system are going to experience success at the next level, then teachers must agree to align their lessons, programs, and efforts to the overarching goals of the school system. Click To Tweet

While the lessons and instructional strategies will vary from one classroom to another, the overarching purpose of schools should guide the work of teachers and administrators.  In a school system, students from three elementary schools may transition into the same middle school.  It should be considered educational malpractice for two schools to prepare students for middle school, while the third school develops their own learning targets, curriculum, and purpose.  Several educators argue for autonomy and personalized learning. 

This article is not attempting to debate the merits of autonomy and personalized learning in schools.  Educators must determine if there is a collective commitment to prepare each learner for the next level.  Too often in education, there are a majority of educators in a school who say they are committed.  The next question they should ask themselves is…to what?

Questions for School Teams

  1. What are the “Collective Commitments” we will make to each other?
  2. Are we committed to (see #1) or compliant?
  3. What evidence do we have to demonstrate our team’s progress?

When school systems allow each school to drift from a common purpose, students receive a disjointed curriculum, transitions to new schools are complicated for learners, and the aims of education are blurred.  If schools are to successfully prepare students for the next level, they must provide common learning experiences and provide students with feedback regarding common goals.  Teachers should not teach from a script or become a clone of other teachers who teach the same grade level.  The goal of a system is to focus on a common purpose.  A lack of purpose will create silos and could negatively impact some students for life.

When School Systems Are Aligned:

  • Priorities become clear.
  • Communication is easier.
  • Goals are transparent.
  • Focus is enhanced.
  • Teams can make adjustments.
  • Systems can support teachers/staff and learners.

Many educators resist the idea of a school system or common goals.  In a school system, “It is assumed that students will be entering the next classroom prepared to handle a more sophisticated or more expansive level of work” (Zmuda, Kuklis & Kline, 2004, p. 122).  If students in a system are going to experience success at the next level, then teachers must agree to align their lessons, programs, and efforts to the overarching goals of the school system.  Jacobs (1997) wrote, “If there are gaps among teachers within buildings, there are virtual Grand Canyons among buildings in a district.”

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Three Steps School Systems Can Take 

  1. Determine the main purpose of the school system.
  2. Communicate the goals of the system.
  3. Implement the goals of the system with a sense of urgency and collective commitment from all staff in the system.

About Steven Weber

Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (AR). His areas of research include curriculum design, formative assessment, professional learning, and school leadership.