The 20 Mile March: What we can learn from Alice Byrne Elementary School

Reading Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen gives you the same effect Buddha might have felt when he meditated under the Bodhi tree! The book completely demystifies success factors that differentiate great companies from companies that fell by the way side. Understanding why a company is successful is no longer a mystery or based on half-truths. A must read book indeed. And if you don’t have the time to read this book, read this in-depth article from Fortune.

In this book, Collins and Hansen talk about the 20 Mile March. It refers to a model that requires companies to hit specified performance markers with great consistency, over a long period of time, without extending too much when times are good and without rolling back when times are tough.

The book cites an interesting case study on education of Latino children in the state of Arizona and cites a research study called “Beat the Odds”. The goal of the study was to identify public schools with Latino students that performed well and compare these schools to other schools with similarly large Latino student populations that did not do well. The study found that factors outside the Principal’s control such as class size, parental involvement or funding did not actually matter when it came to explaining the differences. What really mattered was a set of practical disciplines that lay within the control of the school even under adverse conditions.

According to the study, what mattered in schools was:

  • Ability of the school management to take responsibility
  • Ability to look for solutions from within and not wait for some Government decree to save the day
  • Belief in the idea that no single student should be allowed to lag behind

The book cites the phenomenal success of Alice Byrne Elementary School in Yuma, Arizona. Principal Juli Tate Peach implemented processes to measure performance of the school all through the year as opposed to just at the end of the year thereby allowing an opportunity for teachers to take corrective actions immediately. The school embraced a never ending cycle of instruction, assessment, intervention, kid-by-kid in a relentless 20 Mile March throughout the year. The improvements they saw as a result of this continuous cycle of monitoring performance encouraged them to be even more disciplined in their approach. We definitely have a lesson to learn from this case study. Anybody listening?

Srinivas Krishnaswamy


I love to read and share thoughts on technology, enterprise learning, mobile and any thing cool that impacts enterprises.

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Posted in Teaching

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