For the first time, teachers report being able to pinpoint root causes that they could control and can now work at changing their thinking about their underperforming students. This marked the first time that Payne teachers used data as a tool, and not as a crutch, to identify specific learning deficits and then worked with students in small groups to close the gaps.

Over the past three years, Payne educators have made the shift to examining data regularly to see if instruction is working and changing it, if needed. Because of this dedication to data, Payne has seen a 19.6 point gain in reading and a 32.4 point gain in math.

“In order to achieve excellence for all students, it is no longer an option for teachers to work in isolation; however, putting teachers together to collaborate is only the first step,” said Assistant Superintendent Greg Rasmussen. “To achieve the lift we are getting in Wichita, teachers have to collaborate about the right things. ‘Failure Is Not an Option’ has helped us focus our work by providing our teams with the right tools and processes necessary to bring our professional learning community to life.”

Plumas Avenue Elementary School in Oroville, Calif., had been flagged as a failing school under the No Child Left Behind legislation.

After following “Failure Is Not an Option” for three years, the academic success among students has improved by 35 points. According to Anthony Catalano, principal of Plumas Ave. Elementary, his school is slated to meet AYP targets this spring—an impressive achievement.

Fort Wayne Community Schools, in Fort Wayne, Ind., undertook six pilot programs in the 2008-09 school year.

Superintendent Wendy Robinson and the school board were so impressed with the schools’ outcomes that they expanded the program to all 52 schools in the district for the 2009-10 school year.

After the first year in Fort Wayne’s six selected elementary schools, early reporting SMART Goal results are showing great progress. Shambaugh Elementary had dramatic gains in reading in kindergarten, up 54.5 percent from its beginning benchmark assessment of 42.5 percent. Grades one through five increased reading scores by an average of 15 percent.

You might be asking yourself, how do I go about achieving this success at my school? The key is this: transforming the school culture. Some schools have productive cultures; others have problematic ones.

Every school has a culture, whether one is aware of it or not. Some schools have a culture of blame and hopelessness and end up shifting the accountability away from school professionals. This, in turn, is de-motivating for members of the entire school community, who believe they have no power and that what they do makes no difference.

Courageous thinking and leadership is needed to create a culture that unifies teachers, administrators, and students. There must be a clear, shared purpose and open communication and collaboration between teachers on student learning.

Teachers are among the most likely mentors and positive influences for underachieving students. Real change comes from administrators and schools taking a collective responsibility for student success and making that the cultural mindset. It’s working, and as you can see from the results above, change is happening.