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.
This document provides state education agencies (SEAs) and districts with guidance about how to assess a district’s readiness to support school turnaround initiatives. First published in 2013, the guide has been updated in this edition to highlight how its approach to assessing district readiness embeds and reflects key components of Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement, a framework developed by the Center on School Turnaround (CST, 2017).
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.
Persistently low-achieving public schools around the country have received $5.8 billion from the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, in addition to district and state funds, and other supplementary federal funds. Despite all of these sources of funding, most of the schools receiving them have failed to make a dramatic difference in improving student achievement. However, according to a new report jointly released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Center on School Turnaround, autonomy provided by state charter laws can be better leveraged to improve school turnaround efforts.
The report, Chartering Turnaround: Leveraging Public Charter School Autonomy to Address Failure, provides case studies of three charter management organizations (CMOs) that have successfully restarted low-achieving public schools, adding a valuable component to the limited body of research that exists about turnaround models. The report highlights the freedoms that benefit poor-performing schools most significantly, including: the autonomy to hire, retain and reward staff; the ability to adjust the length of school year, academic program and curriculum; and, the option to develop tailored approaches for finances and facilities.
Successfully initiating and sustaining meaningful improvements in the lowest-performing public schools is a pressing challenge for policy leaders and practitioners nationwide. Local school boards sit at the intersection of policy and implementation of reform initiatives. Yet, ongoing efforts to improve public education focus primarily on the role of teachers, principals, and superintendents, as well as state and federal policymakers. Missing from this debate is a robust discussion or examination of the role of local school boards.