Policy Brief on Massachusetts’ Level 5 Districts

The Center on School Turnaround recently released a brief, the 3rd in a series, on state policies and practices. This brief highlights Massachusetts’ Level 5 district designation. Level 5 districts are those districts with chronic low-performance and whose leadership lacks the capacity to turn the district around, without significant assistance.

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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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Schools of Ed – time for reform

EdWeek just released an article on the lack of urgency states use in closing under-performing schools of education. After working in the turnaround field for more than 8 years, I truly believe that the quality of teacher education programs is a key factor in turning around our education system. Recent teacher graduates (most often concentrated in a district’s lower performing schools) often require significant professional development and mentoring. While any new professional should receive both of these things, it is all too clear that recent graduates are not ready to be in front of a room full of students.

Yes, there are some wonderful schools of education out there, who produce fabulous teachers, but there are also some programs that produce abysmal results and essentially set their graduates up for failure. There are also many mediocre programs that could be so much stronger.

Teachers pay thousands of dollars (in some cases close to $100,000) to attend a School of Education and acquire a teaching certificate. Yet, those very teachers enter a classroom unprepared to instruct students, especially the students who require additional academic, social and behavioral supports. Where is the outrage?

It’s time for districts to put pressure on schools or education to reform their programs to ensure that graduates leave ready to enter the classroom.

It’s time for states to really assess the effectiveness of schools of education and demand more of our higher education community.

It’s time for current university teaching candidates and alumni to stand up and demand more from their programs.

It’s time for schools of education across the country to step up and reflect on their value. Are they really teaching teachers to teach in classrooms of varying need? Are they serving their graduates well? Do their graduates require significant additional supports once in the classroom? Low performing schools of education are a disservice to our kids, our communities, and especially the university students who trust their schools of education to teach them how to teach.

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New Report: Utilizing the Private Sector to Turnaround Schools in England

Yesterday, the Center on School Turnaround (WestEd) released a new report, prepared by Corbett Education Consulting LLC, that highlights how England utilizes the private sector to turn around chronically low-performing schools.

Policy Perspective: School Turnaround in England – Utilizing the Private Sector

This publication provides research and examples on England’s approach to turning around its lowest performing schools. The English education system utilizes private vendors to support chronically low-performing schools and districts. The introduction is followed by discussions of each of the three main strategies for private sector involvement, including: school-based management, turning around individual schools, and outsourcing the management of districts to private vendors. The paper concludes with lessons learned that could inform the implementation of similar efforts in the United States.

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Turnaround Case Study from London

Here’s a great case study on the district level turnaround of Tower Hamlets in London – where one of the lowest performing school systems in the country reached and then surpassed national averages of student performance. The turnaround was led by strong leadership, an urgency for (and a willingness to) change, and a commitment to work with the community. This is one of many great turnaround examples out of London, which is condensed into a readable and, relatively, succinct case study. It concludes, “The experience of Tower Hamlets since 1998 is inspirational. It shows that improvement is not only possible but achievable, that improvement in some schools does not need to be bought at the expense of others and that improvement, once attained, can not only be sustained but surpassed. As a result, it is not unreasonable to argue that what Tower Hamlets has created are some of the best urban schools in the world. This is a genuinely exceptional achievement, worth celebrating, worth understanding, but, above all, worth learning from.” 

Transforming Education for All: the Tower Hamlets Story (Prof David Woods, Prof Chris Husbands and Dr Chris Brown)

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