Various writers have described schools and systems as operating behind a “buffer” which enables schools to maintain traditional approaches, to voice sacred homilies about why kids aren’t learning, and to feel righteously incapable of achieving more.

Richard Elmore first wrote about the “buffer” in Building a New Structure for School Leadership (2000). Mike Schmoker opened his book Results Now (2006) with Elmore’s description of the buffer as “a protective barrier that discourages and even punishes close, constructive scrutiny of instruction and the supervision of instruction.

Specifically, the buffer inhibits anyone and everyone in the system from knowing who is being taught what, how well instruction is being carried out, how well support structures are working to assist groups of students and teachers. And much of the discussion about the substance of what we are doing is generally conducted in very polite terms with assumptions accepted without question.  The fog of “busy-ness” and multiple overlapping activities further insulates us from getting into the core.

Except when teachers working in content or grade level teams begin to use their data to find out who is and isn’t learning? What is and isn’t being learned? And why? The path to discovering the answers to their own questions inevitably leads to deeper examination of the “taught” curriculum, instructional practices, and long-held myths about who can and cannot learn.

A data team member mentioned this week how surprised she was that none of her predictions about what she anticipated her students’ data results to be, were accurate. The way into the core starts here.