This Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement Strategies and Suggestions document and The Four Domains Comprehensive Assessment of Leadership for Learning (CALL) survey and feedback system were created to support the development of the school leaders and their leadership teams in identifying possible action items and developing an improvement plan. It is intended to facilitate the school leaders’ ability to track leadership actions within each domain and provide the specificity on possible next steps for each practice identified in the framework. These practices are critical for achieving rapid and significant school improvement and outline specific areas of focus within each of the four domains to support school-level implementation.
In 2017, the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd published the Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement: A Systems Framework, a framework to assist states, districts, and schools to improve student achievement in the lowest-performing schools. The framework immediately garnered national attention by outlining four areas of focus — Turnaround Leadership, Instructional Transformation, Talent Development, and Culture Shift — that research and experience suggest are central to rapid school improvement. These practices complement a growing national focus on improvement for the lowest-performing schools and greater support for persistently underperforming student groups.
Despite national attention on the need for school turnaround, many school districts across the United States are struggling to fund even the basic costs of school district operations, despite increases in funding. The fact is, revenues are not keeping pace with expenditures in many school districts across the country. As a result, the fiscal circumstances in local school districts and state education systems are increasingly challenging as costs for pensions, special education, employee healthcare, and other cost pressures continue to rise. Yet the need to support vulnerable student populations and struggling schools remains high.
This paper outlines strategies for how school districts can maximize the use of existing resources to support the practices outlined in the Four Domains.
Because the quality of teaching is the most important school-based factor for student learning, a focus on instruction is pivotal for successfully turning around failing schools and districts. These school systems need to abandon instructional practices that are not working, usher in new approaches that lead to improved instruction, and create conditions that enable and inspire effective teaching that allows students to achieve their full potential.
To help address these gaps, the Center on School Turnaround (CST) designed a project to examine the practices of two districts — both members of the University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education, a CST partner — that are successfully improving instruction within their multiple turnaround schools. Our CST research team conducted a series of interviews, using protocols based on the framework defined in our Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement: A Systems Framework, to determine how these districts enacted two key instructional transformation practices: (1) diagnosing and responding to student learning needs, and (2) providing rigorous, evidence-based instruction.
This paper presents guidelines and recommendations for states and districts as they seek to improve systems that support instructional practices.
This paper focuses on Domain 4, culture shift — what it means, why it is essential for rapid improvement in a school, and — critically — how to move a school from a negative culture to a positive one that fosters student learning and success.
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.
In this paper, we address the nature of that challenge. We define what we mean by school culture and differentiate between the school’s culture and the variety of cultural influences students and teachers bring with them to the school. Throughout, we emphasize that the unrelenting focus of a successful school’s culture is student instruction and learning. We address why, in particular, that means ensuring that everyday school and classroom practices substantively respond to, rather than ignore or simplistically acknowledge, students’ home and family cultures. Finally, we offer steps schools can take to prepare for culture shift and a tool that can help launch and guide the change process.
The National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) and the National Center for School Turnaround (2018) published the Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement: An Implementation Framework as a companion to the Center for School Turnaround’s (2017) recent publication of The Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement: A Systems Framework. The aim of this companion paper is to describe how to use the improvement domains in practice.