Picture of a layered cake

The Layered Cake Effect

Have you ever asked yourself…

Despite programs, initiatives, and reforms designed to address lagging student achievement, why are so many schools and districts underperforming? Or have you ever wondered how, despite the odds, some schools and districts are able to succeed?

We have!

For the most part, it is not for lack of effort and/or commitment but rather an all too familiar “organizational trap.”  In an effort to improve student achievement, schools and districts frequently commit to implementing a “curriculum package” or well-publicized program designed to control a specific component or variable in the achievement puzzle.  Too often this strategy is repeated in subsequent budget years leading to what we describe as “the Layered Cake Effect.”

Layering programs on top of one another, without considering the overall effectiveness or compatibility of each, create a sense of disjointedness. On the surface, it may appear that the district is deeply committed to academic progress or continuous improvement and may even be perceived as cutting edge.  Data and research may actually yield another story.

In one particular case, we recall a district that purchased a computerized reading program that was essentially a retread of a very outdated and ineffective reading program from 20 years prior.  The concept was appealing and attractive but ultimately it did not complement the district’s goal regarding student proficiency.  In other cases, high profile observation programs clash with the school or district’s evaluation efforts resulting in reduced effectiveness for each.  Additional examination of the “layering process” found a pattern of inconsistency in the implementation of programs due to the failure to connect these initiatives to professional development, budgets, and instructional methodology just to name a few examples.

Our solution involves a “School System Cross Check” which examines the cohesiveness of initiatives because we believe that the subtleties of process/ programs can be the difference between success and failure.

An Organization is only as good as the effectiveness of its parts.

Vincent F. Cotter, Ed.D.
Bob Hassler, Ed.D.
Co-Founders, Exemplary Schools Organization


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