The paper reviews the plan. Are the priorities significant? Is it Data-driven? Is it Impactful? Is the timeline realistic? Is this Monitored? Resourced? Are all stakeholders represented? Appropriate to the task? Accountable? Resourced?
Set Context Briefly
Education has become a contentious and polarizing issue within the United States. Research has shown that the nation overall, approves and supports investment in education (Allison, 2005). Most citizens recognize the importance of education and its ability to enhance the outcomes of those who learn high demand skills and trades. Education is an essential element in Americas ability to properly compete with other nations on a much more global basis. As a result, America has the highest spending per capita on education than any other developed nation in the world (Adams, 1987). Unfortunately, the results have not manifested themselves in the manner that is congruent with the investment. Outcomes have been adversely impacted by a litany of factors that dont show any signs of abating.
First, educational budgets are very constrained as government look to grapple with higher educational costs with lower revenues from taxes. This issue is exacerbated due to COVID-19 and its impact on both school quality alongside business and tax revenue. Here, schools are now forced to improve academic outcomes without the necessary resources to do so. Next, quality teachers are in short supply which causes large rates of churn with the academic environment. It is no secret that teachers are not well compensated. The low compensations combine with the stressful work environment has contributed to shortages in many high growth markets in the United States. Teacher shortages have impacted the overall quality of education as lessor skilled individuals are now filling these positions thus contributing to the low academic performance the nation is currently experiencing. In addition, there are large disparities in the overall quality of education as it relates to academic achievement of schools within the same jurisdiction. For some the combination of lack of resources and lack of qualified instruction contributes heavily to the adverse circumstances experienced by certain schools. Finally, many schools are assessed based on metrics related to standardized testing. As a result, teachers often teach to the test as oppose to skill acquisition. The standardized test, although helpful, doesnt capture the ability of students to properly obtain the skills and abilities required to matriculated into society. Instead, these tests often look to assess the students ability to answer multiple choice questions, which ultimately, does not have a positive impact on student outcome. Education of the future, particularly in the technology age, will focus heavily on critical thinking skills and the ability for students to solve very complex problems. Certain education systems have not adopted policies by which to help students better matriculate in these circumstances (Anderson, 1998).
These influences have created a large headwind as it relates to education within the United States. Although well intentioned, many policies such as standardized testing, lack of teacher accountability, and lack of resources have impacted student outcomes. This has ultimately caused the United States to fall behind many of its developed peers as it relates to education standards and outcomes. Thankfully, through thought, foresight, and planning, many of these headwinds can be overcome. None of the issue presented above are structural. More resources can be allocated to education on a much more strategic basis. School choice initiatives allow parents to place their kids within better performing schools, thus allowing them to improve outcomes. Teachers shortages can be alleviated through higher pay, training, compensation, and improved working environments. All of these elements are within the purview of society and thus can be leveraged to improve overall educational outcomes (Fain, 2008).
Describe and critique the process used
Acero schools in Chicago is attempting to provide many of the improvement mentioned above. Its strategic plan looks to leverage the learnings of the past to provide a comprehensive and holistic learning environment. What makes the strategic plan so unique is its emphasis on the bilingual and Hispanic community. The strategic planning process overall for the school is unique in that is heavily emphasizes the future of minority and bilingual students. This is unique in that many programs often dont look to recognize the unique and cultural influences that impact learning. The 2020 census published by the United States government indicates an emerging trend towards diversity. Soon, many minority groups will become the majority collectively. The country itself continues to be much more diverse, representing a broad array of customs and beliefs. It is this diversity that makes America itself so unique relative to other nations around the world. Our school system unfortunately still does not adequately reflect this diversity. As mentioned above, many schools, particularly those that focus on minority outcomes, dont have the resources to compete with other schools. Many must deal with varying government objectives such as standardized testing, psychical activity standards, classroom size, and more, with little to no financial resources. The mission and vision of Acero schools looks to alleviate this.
The mission of Acero schools is to transform minds through academic empowerment and success. This concept of empowerment is very unique to the education industry. Currently, many students are not empowered as it relates to their education. Instead they are often forced to learn standardized, boilerplate topics that often do not have an implication for their life. A common example is trigonometry. Although math related concepts are important, many students in their lifetime will not use trigonometry. However, this is a required course in many states in the nation. This is in contrast with financial literacy, another math course that every student is guaranteed to use in their lifetime. Financial literacy courses are still not required in many states around the nation despite its importance to the overall student population. This concept of empowerment is therefore needed as it allows students to better negate with the material presented. It also allows instructors and administrators to provide content that is relevant specifically for students using real world context. This is important as students now need to compete on a global basis. Basic skills are no longer a luxury but a requirement as international competition makes its very difficult to differentiate student performance. As a result, students must be properly equipped with skills and abilities that give them a competitive advantage in what is becoming a much more dynamic environment. The Acero school does this be empowering minority students and holding them accountable for the outcomes. This is very beneficial as it mitigates complacency while also providing students with an engaging and innovative environment in which they can learn, grow and develop.
In addition, the process used recognizes that education is a holistic and comprehensive endeavor. The plan leverages all stakeholder groups including parents, communities, businesses, and staff. Again, unlike many more traditional methods, Acero schools used a process that took input for a variety of stakeholder groups with a vested interest in the outcome .This is very important as policies and improvement plans are much better if all groups are properly motivated and incentivized.
Describe and critique the content
When reviewing the strategic plan, the first influential element is that plans focuses on bilingual and minority students. In addition, the plan looks to improve already impressive results throughout the coming academic years. Here, the school is looking to help foster a culture of continual improvement and academic achevement within minority, primarily Hispanic communities. In addition, the program provides cultural relevant instruction that can help students navigate a very confusing and complex world. As noted above the strategic plan doesnt simply focus on students, it also focuses on teachers and instructors as well. Here the primary goal is to improve instructor innovation in the classroom to further accommodate the needs of a diverse student population. Finally, the strategic plan looks to deliver results by focusing on data-driven differentiation predicated on personalized learning. Each of these are central tenets to the strategic plan are welcomed addition to any core curriculum (Klein-Collins, 2011).
To begin, the focus on minority communities is critical for a number of reasons. First, it provides a template in which other communities can mimic in order to improve student outcomes within their own communities. According to the strategic plan, the current focus and initiatives have been proven to work. For example, the average daily attendance of Acero schools exceeded that of 95% of other local schools. This indicates a very engaged student and community population. This also shows that parents are also engaged in ensuring that their child attends school in a timely manner ready to learn. 87% of the Acero schools are rated in top performance tiers. This indicates that the overall quality of education is superior to that of traditional instruction methods. As noted above, the education is very cultural relevant, thereby engaging the student base in a manner that traditional strategic plans do not. Finally, 60% of Acero schools score above the national average as it relates to reading and math scores. This again is a testament to the value proposition of the school and how it leverages innovation to improve outcomes for students. Through my review and critique of the plan, Acero schools are simply looking to continue the progress they have already achieved. This includes a continuation of the above statistics while furthering the overall growth of the enterprise. The plan does not allow Acero schools to be complacent but instead looks to leverage the schools learning to improve performance for years to come. According to the plan, Acero schools are looking to improvement testing schools, college readiness scores and on-time graduation rates by 3% to 5%. This is impressive considering the schools is already above the national averages for all of these metrics already. Likewise, the plan looks to improve student and staff outcomes through strategic priorities related to instruction. This includes standards that are aligned with data driven instruction, teacher training, innovovation, and assessment. This an important concept of the plan as it holds teachers accountable for the outcomes that they can control. Elements such as updated curriculums, teacher training, and use of the latest technology is all under the purview of the staff. By holding the instructors and staff accountable, bureaucracy and complacency are mitigated (Baron, 1969).
Another critique of the plan is related to the financial aspects of running a school. This element is of the neglected by the public at large until funds have diminished to such as point to where, improvements can not be accomplished. Generally speaking, the public does not generally understand the financial resourced needed to construct and maintain a high performing school. The public often agrees that schools need addition funding and that education should be a priority. However, many are often unwilling to increase taxes to help support the very initiatives in which they want to occur. From a public-school education perspective, these leaves staff and instructors in a precarious position. They must improve student outcomes, improve college readiness, reduce absenteeism, and enroll students in STEM related fields, all while contending with reduced budgets and financial resources. Government budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic have become increasingly stressed as tax receipts have not been able to outpace the growth in expenditures. Education often suffers as the budget is highly susceptible to the nature vicissitudes of life. During periods of economic contraction, schools budgets, which are already stress become difficult to increase. Likewise, during periods of mass optimism and market euphoria, budgets are still constrained as governments look to overcome prior budget deficits. This is exacerbated by the increases in the cost of education that often places further pressures on schools. Items such as books, desks, computers, teacher salaries, and building maintenance all a strained due to budgetary pressure. This ultimately adversely impacts the children as they are unable to receive the quality of education they need and deserve. All of these issues compound on themselves to create a viscous cycle of needs on the part of the educational system (Bosch, 2008).
Teachers are very poorly paid which creates higher turnover rates and teacher shortages. In addition, the good teachers often leave for higher paying positions elsewhere. Without high quality teachers, the overall academic environment suffers as students are not taught to the level they need to be instructed act. Low quality teachers often have no interest in improving and instead contribute to a low-quality academic environment. The lack of funding also lowers the ability for children to receive the latest innovations within the education industry. They are often using outdated text books or low-quality resources. This environment further lowers the attractiveness of the teaching profession to would-be instructors. As a result of these factors, students score lower on college readiness test and other forms of academic achievement (Hamel, 1989)
Acero schools, through their strategic plan help to alleviate these concerns through the heavy focus on financial stability and sustainability. This is critical as it allows the strategic plan to be worked without fear of compromise due to financial constraints. The strategic plan accomplishes this through the following key initiatives
1. Efficient hiring
2. Providing teachers with professional growth and develop opportunities
3. Leadership and recognition
As discussed above, traditionally teachers are not paid well and often receive little to no credit for their accomplishments. Instead, they are often ridiculed for low test scores or lack of achievement. Once a teacher leaves, it becomes very difficult to replace them as there is a current teacher shortage in the market. This ultimately increases tangible and intangible costs to the school. The Acero schools mitigate this, by providing training, leadership and recognition opportunities for all teachers. It places an emphasis on teacher retention and even pays them more than the national average. This helps to eliminate churn within the Acero schools which lowers hiring costs for the system as a whole. In addition, when hired, Acero schools prioritize training and continual education. This again helps to foster a commitment to the school while also improving student outcomes through better instruction (Bates, 1980).
Finally, the strategic plan allows for minimum financial thresholds that can not be breached. For example, the strategic plan calls for a minimum of 60 days of cash on hand. This working capital is critical as it allows the school to continue operations in the event of unforeseen circumstances such as COVID-19 or September 11 terrorist attacks. The plan also calls for a debt service coverage ratio of 1.1. This is very conservative given the low interest rate environment prevailing today. The debt service coverage ratio is calculated as net operating income divided debt service. Here the net operating income of the school should easily cover the debt service payments ensuring that the sustainability of the school is maintained under a variety of economic and financial conditions. In order to issue debt, the schools must have a credit rating from one of the big hree credit rating agencies. These are S&P, Moodys and Fitch. The school plan includes a provision that the credit rating of the school must be stable according to a top credit rating agency. This improve sustainability as a good credit rating allows the firm to lower its cost of debt capital employed in the business. Finally, the school plan requires a liquidity ratio of one. Here again, liquidity is needed to help the school withstand any shocks or disruptions to their overall business operations. As it relates to the schools strategic plan, the financial component is arguable the most important element. It allows the school to maintain its operations, pay higher salaries, and expand its influence into other cities, all while achieve outcomes higher than the national average (Grensing-Pophal, 2011).
Summarize your recommendations
After review of the strategic plan, it appears that Acero schools have a very thorough and viable strategy moving forward. The plan is very comprehensive and looks to address many of the shortcomings of traditional schools. First, the plan has a very robust financial directive that allows the school to maintain operations under any economic circumstances. Next, the plans allow for higher jobs satisfaction for teachers, instructors, staff, and leaders. It looks to pay teachers commensurate with their contributions to the school while also holding them accountable for the outcomes that occur. Leadership provides an environment in which teachers are promoted and engaged throughout the year as oppose to simply being complacent with the status quo. The culture of Acero schools is one that provides a data-driven approach to the overall curriculum, with an emphasis on culturally sensitive topics. This all combines to make a school system that exceeds nearly all national averages as it relates to academic performance and college readiness. To improve the plan, I would look to engage in partnerships to help expand the program to more cities. I would include investments from high net worth clients in exchange for a portion of the profits that the school generates. This will allow the school to quickly expand and impact more children in a cost-effective manner. I would also add metrics relates to STEM related fields within the strategic plan. This is important as STEM related industries are expected to grow exponentially in the future. In order for minority students to better compete, they will need access to the skills required in these industries. STEM related industries will become the future of enterprise in American and abroad. We are already seeing the large growth of technology firms and their overall impact on human civilization. To better prepare students, they should be exposed to these fields as early as possible to ensure they are well equipped to handle the coming labor shift. Finally, I would include a financial literacy course within the strategic plan. The communities in which the school addresses are heavily minority based. As a result, they traditionally have very low wealth and income according to the latest statistics. A financial literacy course will be critical for students as they leverage their learnings to obtain high paying positions in society. Once these positions are obtained, they must use their additional income to generate wealth that can benefit their families and communities alike.
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