Achievement First's approach is not based on any "silver bullet" about how to achieve breakthrough student achievement. Rather, it consists of a set of basic principles that, when combined and executed well, have consistently demonstrated an ability to enable all students to succeed at the highest levels. Several critical elements of the school approach include:
Our ultimate goal is to demonstrate that gap-closing student performance can be achieved at a scale. Achievement First plans to continue growing so that it will serve more than 12,000 students, of which at least 70 percent qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. At this size, Achievement First will have more students than 95 percent of all United States districts, and will be serving more low-income students than 97 percent of all United States districts.
All Achievement First schools share six core program elements that have emerged and are constantly refined:
All Achievement First teachers and principals are focused on completely closing the achievement gap for our students, and student performance is the chief factor in school, principal and teacher evaluations. This focus is translated into practice through the Achievement First Essentials Observation Rubric and the Cycle of Highly Effective Teaching.
Achievement First firmly believes that one of the most important determinants of student achievement is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Likewise, the quality of school leaders is the most important driver of teacher success. Consequently, Achievement First goes to great lengths to recruit, develop, recognize and retain a team of talented teachers and school leaders. All new Achievement First school leaders train for two years before launching a new school, and all new Achievement First teachers participate in nearly four weeks of professional development. Achievement First schools release early on Fridays to provide two additional hours every week of staff meeting and learning time. Every Achievement First teacher has a coach (a principal, dean or lead teacher) who meets with them at least once every two weeks to provide individual coaching and support.
The Achievement First school day is nearly two hours longer than the traditional public school day, allowing many students to have two reading classes and an extended math class every day, with tutoring available during and after school, an average of one to two hours of homework per night, and an intensive independent reading program so that students READ, READ, READ both at home and at school.
Achievement First has clearly defined "scope and sequence" documents that outline the ambitious academic standards that all Achievement First students are expected to master at each grade level, so that success in one grade can be seamlessly built on in the next. Teachers understand that "covering material" is not our goal; what is important is how well students master the standards.
Every six weeks, Achievement First teachers give interim assessments (IA) that measure whether students have actually mastered what we have taught them. These results are then uploaded to Achievement First's Athena, a custom-built assessment system. Teachers and principals spend a "data day" after each IA dedicated to reviewing the individual assessments and together creating data-driven instructional plans that target whole class, small group and one-on-one instruction to address any gaps in student learning. There is designated time during the school day, after school and on Saturdays for small group and individual tutoring. Both teachers and students believe that we need to do "whatever it takes" to make sure all students learn.
Immediately upon entering an Achievement First school, you can feel a sense of urgency, order, rigor, focus and joy. Key elements of Achievement First's school culture include the following: