Archive for August, 2018

Closing achievement gaps in diverse and low-poverty schools – an analysis

Despite millions of dollars in funding to support closing achievement gaps, many efforts fail. After more than a decade of working in this field and seeing the same cycles continue, I would claim that the efforts often fail for a variety of reasons, including: a lack of root cause analysis, not aligning solutions to the root causes, lack of structural and systemic changes, and failure to implement with fidelity (note- all areas in which the adults are responsible).

A new report, Closing Achievement Gaps in Diverse and Low-Poverty Schools, from the Oak Foundation and Public Impact unpacks some of these issues. There are so many good pieces of information in this this report. So many, that I can’t summarize them. This report is a must read, as it examines systemic issues, structural/technical implementation issues, and connects to policies and practice.

The report highlights why closing achievement gaps and fighting for equity is such hard work. It’s not a quick fix to buy a program or bring in a consultant, but it requires a multi-faceted approach with a toolbox of programs, strategies, and changes. It requires going through the phases of the continuous improvement cycle, developing strong goals, building out an implementation plan, and monitoring (and making mid-course corrections) along the way. To do all of this requires strong capable leaders who can push change, while also engaging with the stakeholders to communicate the why and how. This work is not for the faint of heart.

Some of the findings and statements that I find particularly relevant include:

  • “Today, the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers is approximately twice as large as the racial achievement gap between white and African-American children.” (pg 8)
  • “Moreover, the income achievement gap for reading between children born in the mid-1990s to late 1990s is nearly 40 percent larger than the gap among children born in the 1970s.” (pg 8)
  • “Many school systems continue to operate discipline systems that suspend and expel students of color at higher rates than white students. Large-scale studies have shown that this cannot be explained by differential rates of serious infractions. Year after year, these systems keep students of color out of classrooms, perpetuating inequities.” (pg 9)
  • “Given the deep roots of achievement gaps, districts will not find a quick fix or a simple checklist of policies and practices that will close them. Instead, addressing achievement gaps successfully requires committing deeply to equity, engaging with the community to understand its needs and perspectives, taking persistent and complete action steps to change, and being accountable to the community for equitable outcomes. Only within a context of commitment, engagement, action, and accountability can districts expect the research-based policies and practices we outline below to have a meaningful and lasting impact.” (pg 14)

In conclusion, the authors write that “a district must be willing to commit to equity, engage families and the community, take a complete set of actions to fulfil the commitment, and embrace accountability for success” (pg 22). The authors are on point throughout the piece and all district and state education professionals who aspire to close any and all achievement gaps should would benefit from the findings in this piece.

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New publication – Shifting School Culture to Spark Rapid School Improvement

In a new publication from the Center on School Turnaround (at WestEd)Shifting School Culture to Spark Rapid School Improvement: A Quick Start Guide for Principals and their Teams,  we define what school culture is, how a school culture is informed by the cultures and experiences of the school’s students, teachers/staff, families and the surrounding community, and what are some practical steps a school can take to celebrate and incorporate a positive school culture into the day to day environment.

The introduction states “A school’s culture is a powerful force that will work for or against improvement efforts. A school with persistent and chronic low achievement has, almost by definition, spiraled into a negative culture that contributes to and is worsened by its failures. Rapid improvement, then, requires culture shift, an enterprise that requires changes in mindsets, norms, and attitudes and is as difficult and uncertain as it is essential.

The document ends with a practical tool that school and district staff can use to assess the building’s current culture and determine some action steps for improvement.

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New Publication — A Practical View of MTSS

The third and final publication of a series for the Illinois Center for School Improvement (at AIR) is Practical View of MTSS.  This document includes an overview of what MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) is, how MTSS aligns to other educational acronyms (RTI, PBIS), what MTSS looks like in practice, and key elements and some suggested tips for successful implementation of MTSS.

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New Publication — The Role of Equity in School Improvement

The second of a three part publication series for the Illinois Center for School Improvement (at AIR) features The Role of Equity in School Improvement. We write “Today educational equity stretches far beyond the idea of leveling the playing field (equality) to one that integrates the timely, needs-based support for all students to attain their maximum capacity (equity)” (Garland, et al, 2018. p. 2). The publication includes some introductory information that frames a discussion on equity, and then highlights what equity looks like in each of the four domains of school improvement: Leadership, Talent, Instruction, and Culture (The four domains are championed by the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd). Reflective questions are included throughout the document to prompt discussions of school and district staff.

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New publication– System Thinking Leadership for District and School Improvement

In the next few weeks, I’ll highlight a new three-part series of documents that was created for the Illinois Center for School Improvement (run by the American Institutes for Research). The first, System Thinking Leadership for District and School Improvement, was designed as a primer on how systems thinking informs school and district improvement. We focus on leadership as it is the heart of any improvement work. The document includes some Illinois-specific references, yet the majority of the content is applicable for any district or state across the country. One of the most important pieces that came out of the early thinking for this publication was a visual representation on how the the continuous improvement cycle is applicable for each of the foundational elements of improvement (leadership, talent, instruction, and culture); is supported by needs assessment(s); must include efficient and effective systems, structures, and processes; and, be supported by districts and state actions. LAYLAND_GRAPHIC_v4

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