Archive for Partners

AmeriCorps to assist with turnaround efforts

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) announced $15 million of available funds to place AmeriCorps members in persistently low-achieving schools. The additional capacity from the corps members will assist school turnaround efforts and the grants are designed to:

  • target parent and family engagement and student learning time;
  • improve school safety, attendance, and discipline;
  • address students’ social, emotional, and health needs;
  • accelerate students’ acquisition of reading and mathematics knowledge and skills; and,
  • increase graduation and college enrollment rates.

ED and CNCS will award School Turnaround AmeriCorps grants to approximately 650 AmeriCorps members each year for three years, at an estimated 60 schools in urban and rural areas across the country. Local school districts, states, public or private non-profit organizations, IHEs, FBOs, and consortia of any of the above groups are invited to apply. Notice of intent to apply is due April 2. Applications are due April 23rd.

Turnaround schools need as much additional capacity as they can get – as long as the additional capacity is high-quality and aligned to the rest of the turnaround initiative. Bringing in AmeriCorps members to turnaround schools may also help alleviate some of the staff burnout often associated with turnarounds. A note of caution is that any school using the new School Turnaround AmeriCorps program must plan for the end of the grant and build up internal staff capacity when the additional support ends.

For more information:

 

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Districts blocking partners from getting the job done

I just saw this posted on EdWeek.com – I don’t know the back story here, but if the article is true, this is exactly the type of issue that prohibits successful turnarounds. Lead Turnaround Partners can’t do their jobs if the districts won’t work with them.

But, what are the consequences for the partners? They will be fired or their contracts will not be renewed. For the districts? In many states, district staff will keep their jobs and will continue to run the failing school year after year. That makes sense, right?

Turnaround firm sues Gary schools to get records

Published Online: July 26, 2012

GARY, Ind. (AP) — A company appointed by Indiana to run and try to turn around a troubled Gary high school is suing the Gary Community School Corp., demanding that it turn over student records it needs to run the school.

EdisonLearning Inc. senior vice president Todd McIntire told The Times of Munster for a story published Wednesday that the lawsuit requires the district to release student records and provide the for-profit firm with services as required by law, including those associated with student transportation and school maintenance.

The Indiana Department of Education appointed the Knoxville, Tenn.-based company last summer to operate Gary’s Roosevelt College and Career Academy, one of seven Indiana schools approved last year for private takeovers after poor student scores on standardized tests placed them on continued academic probation. The school had been on probation for six consecutive years.

McIntire said the lawsuit was filed Monday in Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis because the company is acting on behalf of the state Department of Education.

Gary attorney Robert Lewis, who represents the school district, said his firm received the lawsuit on Tuesday and is still reviewing it.

“I don’t know the basis for any lawsuit. We are reviewing it and will respond accordingly,” he said.

McIntire said the district provided some student records to EdisonLearning on Wednesday morning, and company officials are auditing those records to determine exactly what it has.

“We’re going through them now. Transportation is connected to the records, and we can’t develop transportation until we have all of the student records,” he said.

McIntire said he meets weekly with the school district’s new superintendent, Cheryl Pruitt, and that she has been cooperative.

However, he said the company has had “very little response” from the school district on maintenance issues plaguing the school, including a malfunctioning elevator.

McIntire also said the school’s heating and air conditioning fails on a daily basis, and there are a number of areas with no ventilation. He also said the building also experiencing flooding last week following heavy rains.

“We have not been successful in getting the school corporation to address these issues or a date when they will get to them,” he said.

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Analysis of GAO’s SIG report (part 3)

… and finally part 3. Click here for parts 1 and 2.

One of the most important recommendations in the GAO report (at least in my opinion) is that states should do a better job evaluating the partners, or at least requiring districts to evaluate the partners, that are helping implement the turnaround and transformation SIG models. To date, ED does not do this, and GAO found that the quality of partners varied greatly. In response to GAO’s recommendations, ED stated it does not agree with the recommendations for several reasons, including:

The Department has required that LEAs hold external partners under the restart model accountable for meeting the SIG requirements because they are engaged in whole-school reform and have considerable flexibility with respect to the school improvement activities they will undertake. External providers supporting the implementation of a turnaround or transformation model may require less provider-specific monitoring, as they generally work on specific, discrete activities to improve student academic achievement (GAO-23-383, pg 36).

While I respect and support many of ED’s SIG policies, such an answer allows partners (who are earning millions of dollars per school over the course of three years) to work without accountability for their actions (or inactions).

While it is true that restart partners do take on a significantly greater role in a restart, external partners working under the turnaround and transformation models also play a significant implementation role and their quality impacts student performance. External partners that take on a defined and specific role (i.e. data analysis or principal leadership) should not be monitored or evaluated to the same extent as a Lead Turnaround Partner that assists with multiple parts of improvement.

But, all partners, irrelevant of the size of their contract or scope of work, should be monitored and their performance should be evaluated. Too many mediocre partners have been able to continually receive contracts because they always have.

If we’re (finally) cracking down on teacher and leader performance, we must do the same with every person or entity working in a school building. Some states ensure the monitoring and evaluation of all partners, especially those acting in a Lead Turnaround Partner role, but a statement from ED requiring, or at least encouraging, such steps would be useful and would benefit the school improvement field as a whole.

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It’s about time to move towards being part of the solution…

From EdWeek’s teacher beat blog: Minneapolis Union Will Help Authorize Charter Schools

A nonprofit body set up by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has been granted the authority to charter schools, in what’s apparently the first such arrangement of its kind in the nation.

[A] charter authorizer, let’s be clear, is not the same thing as a charter-management organization. It does not act as management or get involved in the operations of such a school. Its main goal is to approve the new schools to open, to monitor them, and to shut them down if necessary if they fail to meet academic or financial benchmarks.

Minnesota’s charter school law was updated and strengthened in 2009. The revisions give the state more flexibility to cut ties with an authorizer if it’s not meeting its obligations.

Now, to answer the question I’m sure you have: No, the organization won’t be able to give preferential treatment to schools whose staff want to organize. But authorizing schools with good teacher-management relations appears to be a priority of the body, which is named the Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools.

“The guild believes that strong partnerships between labor and management foster a high-performing school culture; the guild is committed to authorizing schools that give teachers a meaningful voice,” a statement from the guild reads.

(And, one presumes, any school staff that want to authorize will certainly know where to look.)

The idea is the brainchild of MFT President Lynn Nordgren, and her affiliate received a grant from AFT’s Innovation Fund to set up the new nonprofit. She’ll sit on the guild’s board, along with a variety of other folks from business, the city department of education, and labor organizations.

We’ll be waiting impatiently to see what kinds of schools the guild authorizes, and whether their teachers choose to organize.

Coming up with new ways of managing and using teacher expertise, after all, isn’t an easy job: A separate report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education, also out today, finds that despite more flexibility in some areas, like work hours, unionized charter schools often contain the same kinds of step-and-lane pay scales, due process, and grievance procedures (though expedited) as those in public schools.

By Stephen Sawchuk on December 5, 2011 5:24 PM

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New Report: SIG Promising Practices of Lead Turnaround Partners

New SIG Promising Practices Report – 

Lead Turnaround Partners: How the Emerging Marketplace of Lead Turnaround Partners is Changing School Improvement

The revised federal guidance for the School Improvement Grant program encourages the use of external partners to support and supplement the limited capacity of low-achieving schools and districts. In some schools, a type of external providers, called Lead Turnaround Partners (LTPs), are currently assisting with the implementation of the restart, turnaround, and transformation improvement models.

As LTP providers enter the field, some have relevant knowledge and experiences, but others are just beginning to take on more comprehensive reform efforts. Even the most seasoned education support organizations acknowledge that implementing systemic and sustainable dramatic school improvement, within the revised federal models, is a new type of work and there’s a great deal to learn.

This new report, authored by Corbett Education Consulting, with support from Public Impact, for the Center on Innovation & Improvement, is the first analysis of the substantial reforms Lead Turnaround Partners are implementing in persistently low-achieving schools, under the federal School Improvement Grant program.

This report highlights the promising practices of Lead Turnaround Partners, and how states and districts can help or inhibit their improvement efforts in persistently low-achieving schools. Areas of analysis include: the existing marketplace (both supply and demand); the varying definitions of the LTP role; the organizational structures of LTPs; roles and responsibilities; lessons learned; and most importantly, recommendations for states, districts and LTPs to establish stronger LTP partnerships in the future.

While we await more detailed scientific research that examines the effectiveness of LTP practices and partnerships, the LTP field will continue to grow. Until that level of research is complete, it is crucial that we learn from the early promising practices of LTPs, states, and districts.

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Meeting the demand before building the supply

Sam Dillon’s recent New York Times story, Inexperienced Companies Chase U.S. School Funds, accurately portrays one of the major concerns of the turnaround/transformation school model. Billions of federal dollars are being allocated to states and districts (and schools) to hire external Lead Partners to assist in the turnaround/transformation process. But, who are these Lead Partners? Can they do this work?

The truth is that there aren’t many Lead Turnaround Partners out there. And, those with experience and a track record of successful school improvement are even fewer. While it’s difficult to build a supply of partners to take on this work (especially before the funding and policies exist to implement), the extreme demand that is now present in virtually every state and the lack of strong partners is becoming, and will continue to be, a major problem.

Potential solutions:

  • Create multiple venture funds to launch new high quality Lead Turnaround Partners (NewSchools recently announced a new fund will help do this, most likely, in the charter-world).
  • Build a training program for Lead Turnaround Partners (much like Building Excellent Schools, KIPP, or Urban Teacher Residency United).
  • Create an oversight body to certify strong organizations, that includes a rigorous review and evaluation process that provides states and districts with quality guidance and holds the partners accountable (i.e. an accreditation).

These are all long-term solutions, but the money is on its way, Lead Partners are popping up all over the place (from individual retired principals and traditional supplemental education service providers to the big publishing companies and professional associations) and they’re already being hired. So, what do we do now?

  • States (and large districts) should complete rigorous preferred provider searches. While it’s inevitable that politics will get in the way, applying Lead Turnaround Partners SHOULD NOT automatically be approved simply because they completed the RFP and it would cause potential conflict if they were not approved.
  • Districts and states need to closely monitor progress throughout the year, and if a Lead Turnaround Partner is not effective, the contract should not be renewed and the partner should be removed from the preferred provider list.
  • All Lead Turnaround Partners should have Memorandum of Agreements or Understanding (MOA or MOU) to clearly outline the goals, expected outcomes, autonomies, responsibilities, and repercussions for not achieving expected progress. These should be signed by the Lead Turnaround Partner, the district, and the state. See a recent AEI/Public Impact paper for more info.
  • States need to talk to each other to learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses in the RFP release and review process, monitoring, and from their experiences with the various partners.
  • Lead Turnaround Partners need to talk to each other to discuss what works in specific districts/states and what doesn’t (there’s more than enough work out there, so the need for competition should decrease).

The bottom line is that “children first” should be at the forefront of every decision made relating to the creation of preferred provider lists, selection of partners, and the development of contracts. If we don’t hold the adults accountable for results, it’s hard to hold kids accountable for their results.

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