New report: Examining how charter autonomies can be used to turnaround schools

Today, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Center on School Turnaround released a joint publication I authored, entitled: Chartering Turnaround: Leveraging Charter School Autonomy to Address Failure. This paper explores how charter schools and charter autonomies can be used to turnaround chronically low-performing of schools, via:

  • Traditional public school restart (TPS restart): Converting a low-performing traditional public school to public charter school status via the SIG restart model or via another accountability mechanism that requires a turnaround strategy;
  • Closure and replacement: Starting one or more new charters schools in locations with high concentrations of recently closed low-performing schools; and
  • Charter school restart (charter restart): Transferring management of an underperforming public charter school to new management and new board governance.

The paper discusses each of these options at a high-level, and then delves into case studies of three Charter Management Organizations using the TPS restart model to turnaround schools. The case studies are the core of the paper, and were my favorite part to research and write. Finding out about what’s working, what’s not working, and how practitioners in the field rise to the numerous barriers they face, while thinking out-of-the-box to problem solve is one of the best parts of my job. Speaking to the leaders of these three organizations was inspiring and revives my spirit in a sometimes daunting field.

Charter schools, and the charter autonomies they work under, provide us a unique opportunity to think outside of the traditional school building turnaround. It’s time we stop thinking about just preserving chronically under performing building and start thinking about how we can change turnaround opportunities for students. Charter schools, and their autonomies. are not a panacea for low-performing schools, but they do provide us with additional options that should be explored by policymakers and practitioners.

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Addressing the root cause of student behaviors

In school turnarounds, we often talk about the need to address climate and culture issues right away. In order to change the climate and culture in a school, students need to feel that their teachers believe they can learn, teachers need to believe that students CAN learn, behavioral expectations must be set clearly, and those expectations must be enforced consistently and with fidelity. But, what discipline looks like can vary. Too often in turnaround schools we see high out of and in school suspension rates. While it may be easier for the classroom teacher to instruct without a child acting out, that child loses valuable classroom time, and learns that the school (as a system) does not care if he/she is learning. This article (a great read for parents or educators), highlights psychologist Ross Greene’s work, explains why educators must get to the root cause of student behaviors, as opposed to reacting the action. We must find out what’s really going on with kids to prevent that action from occurring in the future. This requires a great deal of time, skill, and patience up front, but it can result in tremendous outcomes for the student. We must acknowledge that kids in turnaround schools (and all kids for that matter) have a lot going on and might not understand how to deal with their emotions and feelings in a productive manner. (Adults have the same issue, myself included!) Educators must step back from addressing the action, and dig deep to find out the root cause of an action. It could be as complicated as the child witnessed domestic violence last night or saw a neighbor being arrested, but it also may be as simple as the child is hungry. All it takes is a patient adult to ask a child what’s going on and what they can do to help. Our schools need to recognize student’s individual needs and then do what they can to mitigate the negative external forces on that child’s life.

Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

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Finding ways to address a human capital shortage

A recent EdWeek article highlights practices being implemented in Nevada and Colorado, that provides strong school leaders more than one school to manage. While such a practice must be carefully implemented (i.e. strong staff in both schools and supportive conditions from the district), the model can work – and has been effectively implemented for years in other countries. Read more about the practice here. What I found in England was that the entire system is designed to support strong educators and administrators. There was an amazing sense of shared responsibility and moral purpose. For this to work in the U.S., we’d need to reform some of the very systems that currently penalize the strong and hold up the weak(er) staff. Success requires a team effort.

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New state policy brief: Florida’s extended time for literacy

A new state policy brief from the Center on School Turnaround on Florida’s policy which mandates additional time for the purpose of literacy instruction in the state’s lowest-performing (in literacy) schools. Read more, here.

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New report on SEA-provided supports and their impact

Sam Redding and I recently co-authored a report, for CCSSO, on SEA-provided supports and how SEA staff members evaluate more impact. The research brought up a lot of questions and much more extensive research should be completed to draw firm conclusions, but the findings are designed to start conversations within SEAs about what services we provide to low-performing schools, how we monitor the impact of those services, and if we assess for effectiveness of services overall. It’s a really interesting read that might be useful as SEAs finalize their ESEA flexibility waiver applications. The report can be found on CCSSO’s website, here.

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New study assessing the impact of SIG

The Council of Great City Schools recently released a report assessing the impact of SIG on their member schools & districts. Overall, the study found that the majority of schools did improve, although some of the growth flat lined in years 3 and beyond. Schools also succeeded in reducing the percentage of students in the lowest achievement groups – a key indicator of school improvement.

The study also determined several strategies that appear to increase the chance of improvement, including:

  • A clear, coherent, and coordinated district plan for supporting and turning around the lowest-performing schools—and strong commitment for comprehensively executing this plan.
  • Interventions that were focused on instructional improvements and provided schools with high quality instructional programming and materials.
  • The coordination of instructional interventions and strategies that complemented each other.
  • Professional development that built staff instructional capacity.
  • Principals who were invested in a vision for improvement and were able to communicate these priorities to teachers, staff, students, and the community.
  • Principals who were given the flexibility to make staff changes or remove ineffective educators.
  • The ability to leverage data to identify the specific academic needs of struggling students, determine needs for professional development, and decide on intervention strategies.

Sustainability and implementing with fidelity remains a concern for the use of SIG funds, but this study brings some important nuances to the SIG debate – as previous ED data analysis lacked qualitative research and much of the quantitative data was pulled from the studies (for a variety of a reasons).

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Two new briefs on state policies and practices: Mississippi and New Mexico

Two new briefs from the Center on School Turnaround. 

This brief highlights Mississippi’s Children First Act of 2009, which permitted the creation of a Recovery School District and state takeover of chronically underperforming school districts. The brief includes an overview of the policy, a description of the development process of the policy, explanation of the impact of the policy’s implementation to date, and lessons learned from Mississippi that may support other states interested in implementing similar policies and structures.

The focus of this brief is the New Mexico Public Education Department’s Principals Pursuing Excellence (PPE) program that was launched in 2013. The program was designed to develop a cadre of strong turnaround principals. The brief includes an overview of the program, a description of the program with stakeholder roles and responsibilities, the program’s impact and lessons learned from the program’s implementation.

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