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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New publication on the use of external providers in turnaround released

The Center on School Turnaround recently released a guidebook entitled The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices, edited by Lauren Morando Rhim and Sam Redding. The publication addresses a variety of issues related to school turnaround from how ESEA waivers impact turnaround and the role of state chiefs, to utilizing technology and turning around rural schools. I authored one of the (many) chapters and facilitated a workshop on this topic at the most recent CST/SIG convening this past September. The chapter is available as part of the compilation (click on publication title above) or individually (Navigating the Market: How State Education Agencies Help Districts Develop Productive Relationships with External Providers).

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Raising the bar for teachers

Many incoming teacher candidates will now be expected to take and pass a performance-based assessment, which requires the demonstration of planning, instructional and analytical skills. While states may choose to require the test for all teaching candidates, individual states will also determine the cut scores for passing. A state could set a high bar, which would force schools of education to step up to the plate and ensure teachers are adequately prepared to 1) teach content and 2) know how to teach. A state could also choose a low bar and little change would result – with the exception of placing undue stress on teacher candidates who study for a test that their universities don’t prepare them for.

There is a great deal of backlash against any type of performance-based pay system in education, yet there is little outcry against inadequate schools of education. Personally, I would be livid if I attended a 4-year college, paid $100k+ for a BA in education that would supposedly teach me to teach, accepted a job, and then once in the classroom realized that I had no idea how to actually teach. The quality of teachers is one of the biggest factors in a student’s performance, and our (underperforming and inadequate) schools of education hurt the entire education system. Until we significantly increase the expectations for teachers who enter the teaching profession, and ensure that training programs (university-based or alternative) teach true classroom management and instructional skills (in addition to content-specific knowledge), our potential for improving education stagnates.

As some states mandate this new assessment, we must pay attention to the cut scores states set, and how colleges of education alter their teaching training programs as a result of the increased pressure. It will also be useful to examine the results of candidates who were traditionally trained (university-based) or trained through alternative programs (TFA, urban teacher residencies, etc.).

NB. There are many good (and great schools of education) out there, just not enough of them.

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