Schools Cannot Do It Alone by Jamie Vollmer Schools Cannot Do It Alone

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Schools Cannot Do It Alone by Jamie Vollmer

Schools Cannot Do It Alone tells of an extraordinary journey through the land of public education. Encounters with blueberries, bell cures, and smelly eighth graders lead author Jamie Vollmer to two critical discoveries. First, we have a systems problem, not a people problem. We must change the system to get the graduates we need. Second, we cannot touch the system without touching the culture of the surrounding town; everything that goes on inside a school is tied to local attitudes, values, traditions, and beliefs. Drawing on work from hundreds of school districts, Schools Cannot Do It Alone offers parents, teachers, board members, administrators, business and community members a practical approach to understanding, trust, permission, and support needed to change the system.

Chapter list and summary statement

  • Part I: From Critic to Ally

    • Chapter 1 – Run it like a business: An ice cream man with an attitude

      • About the author

    • Chapter 2 – Blueberry story: The big shot learns a lesson

    • Chapter 3 – Aide for a day: Locked in a room with eighth graders

    • Chapter 4 – The ever-increasing burden: Educators are not the problem

      • A list of the additional duties and responsibilities given to educators from 1900 to the present without adding a single minute to the school day

  • Part II: Why Our Schools Need to Change

    • Chapter 5 – The flaw in the system: Selecting for a world that no longer exists

      • The industrial model

      • Multiple choice tests

    • Chapter 6 – The new competitive equation: The learner-to-laborer ratio is reversed

      • The knowledge age [the “connected economy”]

    • Chapter 7 – The smoking gun: Time constant, learning variable

      • The bell curve

    • Chapter 8 – Challenging the core beliefs: The three-dimensional bell curve

      • Multiple intelligences

  • Part III: The Public Is Not Ready

    • Chapter 9 – Struggling to be heard: Noise, history, bureaucracy, and T.T.S.P

      • An uphill battle

    • Chapter 10 – On the brink of progress: Attempting change and riling the public

      • A war

    • Chapter 11 – The obstructive power of “real school”: Mental models, nostesia, and changing America one community at a time

      • Nostesia

      • Culture and community

    • Chapter 12 – Considering community involvement: Going from A to B through C

      • Community involvement campaign

    • Chapter 13 – The terrible twenty trends: External forces are pushing the public away

      • Trends to understand

    • Chapter 14 – The prerequisites of progress: What we need from the community

      • Understanding

      • Trust

      • Permission

      • Support

  • Part IV: The Great Conversation

    • Chapter 15 – Escaping the Status Quo: An ongoing discussion with two tracks

      • Community collaboration

    • Chapter 16 – The formal track: Community’s turn, community’s convenience

      • Get on the community’s turf

    • Chapter 17 – Mapping the community: Finding our audience

    • Chapter 18 – Deciding the message: A story of achievement, simply told

      • There is no perfect message

    • Chapter 19 – Developing scripts: Organizing content and sharing responsibility

    • Chapter 20 – Building teams: No one goes there alone

    • Chapter 21 – Conducting a communications audit: Reinforcing the message behind the scenes

    • Chapter 22 – Creating a comprehensive schedule: Putting the map to work in phases

    • Chapter 23 – A second front: Not everyone wants to go public

    • Chapter 24 – The informal track: Leveraging the power of the individual

      • Personal power

    • Chapter 25 – The return on investment: Trust, “Yes” votes, and rising social capital

      • Shared responsibility

      • Engagement

      • Satisfaction

    • Chapter 26 – A most hopeful time: The moral and the practical converge

Schools Cannot Do It Alone Book Study


    • Our schools must change. They were designed to serve a society that no longer exists. 4

    • For the first time in history, our security, prosperity, and the health of our nation depend upon our ability to unfold the full creative potential of every child. Not just the easy ones, not just the top twenty-five percent of the class. America’s schools were not designed to do this. They were built to select and sort students into two groups: a small handful of thinkers and a great mass of obedient doers. 4

    • [We have] a systems problem, not a people problem. 5

    • [Teachers] juggle their disparate tasks before audiences comprised of diverse, distracted, demanding children, many of whom are victims of a pop culture that overstimulates their physiologies, fractures their attention spans, and promotes a bizarre sense of entitlement. 5

    • Principals are asked to be both efficient branch managers and brilliant instructional leaders; they have become the shock absorbers of the system—squeezed by directives from above and demands from below. 5

    • Superintendents and their administrative teams spend their days (and nights) attempting to stretch insufficient resources to meet rising expectations. They struggle to balance competing public and private interests while being denounced for earning salaries that no private sector CEO managing a comparable organization would even consider. 5

    • And everyone who works in our schools labors to respond to the consequences of “mandate creep”: the ever-expanding list of academic, social, medical, psychological, and nutritional responsibilities that has been crammed into an academic calendar that has not grown by a single minute in decades. 6

    • Schools are shaped by the mores of their communities. If we are to meet the challenges of the knowledge age [and the “connected economy”], if we are to unfold the full creative potential of every child, we must do more than change our schools, we must change America, one community at a time. 7

    • Something [is] missing in the standard approach to reform. It wasn’t a lack of effort or conviction, standards or accountability. There was no shortage of research or proven programs. It [is] deeper. There [is] something missing in the community, specifically in the school/community relationship. Even in the best districts, there [is] a dearth of four intangible but essential resources: understanding, trust, permission and support (the “Prerequisites of Progress”); and it [is] obvious these four [must] be developed before systemic TRANSFORMATION can occur. 8

    • The Prerequisites of Progress [can] be obtained through a single course of action. Something practical that [requires] no new money. Something that [can] be easily implemented with existing personnel. Something that [promises] enough tangible benefits to entice everyone on staff and all their allies in the community to participate (“The Great Conversation”); a strategically coherent, tactically sound, community-wide enterprise that any district can initiate and maintain with existing resources and personnel. By adding this piece to [the] ongoing efforts to increase student success, school districts across the country can secure community understanding trust, permission, and support, and at the same time, inoculate the people of their [community] against the ravages of viral negativity. Everyone can and should pay a part in The Great Conversation, and the time to act is now. 8

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