William M. Ferriter

William M. Ferriter is an eighth-grade science teacher in a professional learning community near Raleigh, North Carolina. A National Board Certified Teacher for the past 28 years, Bill has designed professional development courses for educators nationwide on topics ranging from establishing professional learning communities and using technology to reimagine learning spaces, to integrating meaningful student-involved assessment and feedback opportunities into classroom instruction.

Book Review: Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap

In preparation for our upcoming conversation with Rick and Becky DuFour on the steps that schools can take to develop effective systems of intervention that reach beyond the classroom, I just finished reading their newest book, Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap. Here’s my review:

I’ll never forget the day that I interviewed to work at Salem Middle School almost six years ago. “We’re planning on creating a professional learning community,” then-principal Matt Wight said to me, “and we’re going to use Professional Learning Communities at Work™ as our guide.”

Wanting the job at Salem very, very badly, I stopped by the Barnes and Noble on the way home to pick up what has turned out to be one of Rick DuFour’s most popular titles. I figured reading and reviewing it over the weekend would be a good way to impress the new bossman.

My principal was impressed, and it wasn’t long before I fell in love with DuFour’s vision for schools. Throughout Professional Learning Communities at Work™, DuFour argues that the key to improving education rests in the hearts and minds of classroom teachers working collectively to study their practice.

That’s an easy argument to embrace for a teacher-leader type like me who is proud of what I know and can do!

But I’ve got to say that I’ve spent parts of the past six years incredibly frustrated because even though our school has worked hard to polish our collaborative practices, we’ve struggled to craft the kinds of schoolwide systems of intervention that DuFour briefly mentioned as the key to success in Professional Learning Communities at Work™.

Intervention—for struggling learners and high achievers—has primarily remained the job of the classroom teacher in our school, and that’s gotten progressively harder because our classrooms seem to get more diverse every year. Differentiation alone just isn’t enough to meet the needs of everyone.

I suspect that our struggles are not unique, though. After all, until recently, there haven’t been many practical examples—in DuFour’s early writings or in schools and districts—of systems of intervention that principals and district-level leaders could use as models.

Which is why Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap is such a valuable contribution to the literature surrounding the professional learning community movement.

Written by Rick and Becky DuFour—in partnership with their longtime colleagues and friends Bob Eaker and Gayle KarhanekRaising the Bar and Closing the Gap is designed to give every school an “intervention role model.”

Providing tangible proof that systems for intervention are possible regardless of a building’s size or demographics, each chapter explores an individual school and/or district that has risen to the challenge of meeting the needs of every student.

Readers get a chance to look at the work done by nine progressive buildings, including:

  • Boones Mill Elementary School: Serving a poor, rural Virginia community, Boones Mill Elementary—the former professional home of Becky DuFour—has relentlessly aligned resources with priorities to produce impressive learning gains year after year.
  • Highland Elementary School: Serving a high-poverty student population, Highland Elementary used innovative schedules and interventions to pull itself out of corrective action from the Department of Education and into one of the top-scoring buildings in the entire state of Maryland in the span of five short years.
  • Prairie Star Middle School: Serving a relatively homogeneous, middle class population in the noted Blue Valley School District of Northeastern Kansas, teachers at Prairie Star Middle work closely with guidance counselors, the school psychologist, and building administrators to target struggling students.
  • Lakeridge Junior High School: Once the lowest-performing school in Utah’s Alpine School District, Lakeridge Junior High has had remarkable success in using interventions to meet the needs of a growing population of English language learners.
  • Cinco Ranch High School: Focusing on the needs of freshmen, Cinco Ranch High—serving a suburb of Houston—became one of only four public high schools in Texas to receive the USDE’s No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Award.
  • Adlai E. Stevenson High School: Having shown student growth continuously for over 25 years, Stevenson is one of the nation’s most successful suburban high schools—and the former professional home of Rick DuFour, Bob Eaker, and Gayle Karhanek.

Detailing the specific steps that each school and/or district took when designing their systems of intervention, Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap is the kind of book that school leaders can sit down and learn from immediately.

Need proof?

I’ve ALREADY photocopied several sections and slipped them under the doors of the principals and teacher leaders in my building—an easy thing to do when intervention strategies are carefully described, implementation plans are outlined, and evidence of impact is included for schools that look a lot like ours!

Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap is the kind of title that you’ll find yourself highlighting and annotating your way through, imagining how each intervention mentioned might be tailored to your specific school and student population.

And take it from me: By the time that you’re done, you’ll have a renewed confidence in your own ability to design and implement a system of intervention that reaches well beyond the classroom.


cheryl mizell

The classrooms are become more diverse each year and it becomes harder for teachers to have as much student success. Everyone should pitch in and do what is best for the students. After reading this I am going to get the book, "Raising The Bar and Closing the Gap."

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Becky DuFour

@Eric - We have not had any schools from NJ submit applications that meet the guidelines yet, but would welcome applications from those who feel they have. You may want to contact the New Jersey Education Foundation Partnership to see if they can recommend any PLC schools. If you wants us to verify whether or not you meet the criteria, your school(s) would need to complete and submit an EE form.

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Eric Fraunfelter

Hi Everyone:
Can anyone help me find a list of schools in the state of New Jersey that are practicing professional learning communities as this is my dissertation topic and I would like to survey all middle schools and high schools in NJ. Also, is this website the best place to find current peer reviewed scholarly articles on PLCs?

Eric Fraunfelter

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I think you hit it on the head George when you said it was about school culture. A bell schedule has never turned a school around. As Marzano would say, it is about what the individual teacher does with his instructional minutes. I once heard Anthony Muhammad say, that changing a bell schedule is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. If teachers do the same thing in 90 minutes that they did in 55, then nothing is gained. If teachers do not support the interventions that the new bell schedule permits, then nothing is gained. In the end it is about what the teachers are willing to do for their students and how they utilize their instructional minutes.
But in the words of that great American philosopher, Dennis Miller - I could be wrong.....

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PLC's have just been mandated for our district. My school attempted to incorporate PLCs during the middle of the prior school year just before testing and it was a disaster. The meetings were meaningless and nothing was accomplished. This year should be very different. I was unsure of the original purpose of these communities as we already had grade level teams which met to discuss the same type of issues. However, the groups have been arranged to be multi-leveled and also include specialist and para-pros. It is unfortunate that we are in a time where the needs of the most struggling students are somehow not being met or simply being overlooked. I will definitely invest in this book and share it with administration in hopes that it will bring about a positive change in our school environment.

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This year our school has adopted Rick DuFour's book "Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap" as the book of the year. I have already started reading the first couple of pages and am excited to learn how to become a school that can raise the bar as well as close the achievement gaps. I am hoping the strategies we learn from this book will help our school become more successful in this aspect. I am interested to see how the teachers will relate and implement these strategies in order to close the gaps. The results of the teachers reading this book will benefit the school as a whole and I'm excited to get started with our book chat this year. I believe our PLC will benefit greatly from adopting this book this year.

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As the new school year begins, we are learning of all the new changes to take place over the next 10 months and beyond. One change is that students must pass both semesters of a course to receive credit. They can no longer count on semester two to bring a failing semester one average to passing. This will require early interventions for students to move forward. Structured/formal PLCs will also be used for the first time. I can't wait to learn more and participate in PLCs. It will be interesting to see how the PLCs will help with early intervention of struggling students.

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At the high school where I teach, we have been struggling with an ever-growing number of students who are failing multiple classes. Every semester, our D-F-and-I list spans two pages and doesn’t seem to shrink much as the year progresses. After reading an article by DuFour (2004) in Educational Leadership, I was impressed by the direct intervention program he described from Adlai E. Stevenson High School and saw in it a model which might help my school combat this problem. For that reason, I’m looking forward to reading this book and learning (from examples at other progressive schools mentioned) more intervention strategies that we might be able to implement.

DuFour, R. (2004). What is a professional learning community?. Educational Leadership, 61(8), 6-11.

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After attending one of the Dufour conferences I was excited because I thought we were going to develop a system for intervention explain in the conference, unfortunately the system that my district developed was similar as a tracking system due to the fact that most of the teachers were resistance to knew ideas.

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What is the best strategy or strategies to motivate very chronic unwilling students? I mean students who had developed a very negative opinion about schooling? They did not see any connection between school and success

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