The School as a Learning Organization
A major concept applied during the organizational development of the school was that of the “learning organization” (Argyris & Shon, 1996; Senge, 2000). Both the leadership and the research that the school principal, Yafa Ben-Ami, provided enabled the school to become a learning organization by all criteria (2003). According to Ben-Ami, focusing on institutional knowledge management, integrated with intensive e-mail networking, allowed the build-up of institutional collective knowledge. This pattern of communication and interchange became an extension of the actual school community rather than a separate entity of a virtual community. Figure 5 summarizes the findings concerning the school as a learning organization.
Institutional wisdom is based on two complementary bodies of knowledge—core knowledge and supporting knowledge. Core knowledge was constructed throughout the organizational development of the school and represents the collective wisdom of the institution. Its major elements are shared vision, common goals, basic principles, shared values, pedagogical strategies, and core curriculum. Supporting knowledge has to do with the processes of organizational learning. This knowledge is transient and labile and at times tacit. It consists of essential assessments, professional development, social networking, community cooperation, adaptation of subject matter, problem solving, and decision making.
The emergence of the school as a learning organization grew from the central principle of learning and professional growth of the school staff. By the end of 10 years, 31 teachers had completed graduate studies toward their MA and 4 had enrolled in PhD programs.
The following were the organizational frameworks supporting staff development where each teacher belonged to three professional forums: (a) home unit and subject matter specialists; (b) the learning electronic network; and (c) weekly, monthly, and yearly professional seminars. All this collectively enabled the transformation from a routinely operating school to a learning organization. Thus the school has become a knowledge system and can be analyzed as such.
The Role of Knowledge Technology in the School
The role of knowledge technology is central to the theoretical framework of the school. Whether or not digital media are changing, cognition goes far beyond the scope of this study. However, Cramim was studied by Mioduser, Nachmias, Forkush, and Tubin (2001) as part of the OECD international study SITEM2. Just 8 schools out of the 176 under study were found to have a system of innovative change driven by information/communication technology (Kozma, 2003). The mastery of computer skills in Cramim was very high compared to the traditional school (Chen, Tubin, & Ben-Ami, 2002). Ben-Ami (2003) has shown that the language used in 3,000 analyzed e-mails represent an intermediate genre between writing and speech.
While the professional leadership of the knowledge engineer in the school was indispensable to the technology implementation and successful daily operation, the overall model of integration of technology and learning is still far from being realized. The following call for extensive research and development: (a) theoretical framework of knowledge representation for learning, (b) integration of learning inside and outside the school, (c) pedagogies of utilizing technologies for teaching, and (d) understanding the nature of learning of digitally represented knowledge.
Even though the experimental school under study has a broad agenda, the public verdict regarding success or failure of the experiment would heavily lean on the results of achievement testing. That is why we have been waiting for the school to stabilize and then carefully administer several national tests in addition to the national report cards testing in 2003/2005. The data thus presented are mainly based on three studies: Chen et al. (2002), National Report Card (2003, 2005), and Tubin, Likriz, and Chen (2004).
In the first study we have used TIMSS tests to study the achievements of fourth-graders in mathematics and science. The results are unequivocally clear. The experimental school students scored 79 points in mathematics compared to 70, the average in Israeli schools and 62, the average international achievement (see Figure 6).
The science score was accordingly 63 for the school, 59 for Israel, and 58 at the international level—not as impressive as the mathematics score but still higher than the Israeli average (see Figure 7).
In both 2003 and 2005 the Ministry of Education administered a national study of the schools of Israel called “MEITZAV” which is equivalent to a national report card. Out of that study, the results concerning Cramim School is presented in Table 1. The results show continued progress in the achievements in the four subjects tested, and the average achievements are about 11% above the national norm for similar schools.
Table 1. National Report Card—2003 and 2005 Achievements
|Language|| 76|| 82|
|Mathematics|| 74|| 79|
|Science and technology|| 74|| 87|
|English|| 85|| 92|
During the past 10 years, the Cramim model was extended locally to an additional eight schools. A study of the national report card in 2004 (Chen, 2004) shows that in all the experimental schools in this consortium, comprising 5,572 students, the relative grades in all four subjects were significantly higher than the national norm (see Figure 8).
The extent to which the advantage of students in the experimental schools persists in a conventional junior high school was studied (Tubin et al., 2004) by testing all students enrolled in the local junior high school, then sorting out the graduates of Cramim after the tests and comparing them with graduates of regular schools.
In Table 2 the achievement scores of Cramim graduates in four subjects are compared to graduates from regular schools after a year in junior high school. The results clearly show that (a) graduates of the experimental school score higher in each of the four subjects than graduates of the regular schools and (b) the advantage of the experimental school persists in the standard learning environment of the junior high school.
Table 2. Persistence of Achievements of Cramim Graduates
|Experimental (SD) school students' grade||Regular (SD) school students' grade|
|Mathematics||80 (16)**||74 (18)|
|Hebrew||78 (15)**||70 (17)|
|Geography||69 (16)*||64 (16)|
|English||75 (19)||73 (18)|
The distribution of the average grade frequency in the classroom population was measured (see Figure 9). This distribution pattern suggests that it is the low-achieving students who benefit mostly from the experimental school learning environment.
It is also evident from the bipolar distribution pattern of motivation (see Figure 10) that the increased motivation of Cramim graduates is fueled by the lower echelon students in the regular school.
In a recent study (Barzilai, 2006) the early childhood unit (ages 5–7) was studied. The two findings that will complement the overall picture emerging regarding the effect of the experimental school on learning are presented here.
In Figure 11 the distribution of mathematics achievement in the early childhood unit is shown compared with a control group (same age, same socioeconomic status, regular school).
In Figure 12 the distribution of literacy achievements (an aggregate of four different measures) is displayed. It is evident that already, at the end of the first period in the experimental school, the students score higher than in the control group in both mathematics and literacy; once again the results suggest that the low-achieving group benefits the most from the experimental learning environment.