This guide, written by Daniel Player, Dallas Hambrick Hitt, and William Robinson from Center on School Turnaround partner, the University of Virginia’s Partnership for Leaders in Education, provides state education agencies (SEAs) and districts (LEAs) with guidance about how to assess the district’s readiness to support school turnaround initiatives. Often, school turnaround efforts focus only on the school’s structure and leadership. Rarely do policymakers or practitioners think about school turnaround as a system-level issue requiring fundamental changes in district-level practice to establish the conditions for school turnaround to succeed. This guide will also provide an introduction to turnaround readiness conditions that will help districts to best position resources to enable turnaround schools to succeed.
This report describes examples of actions that school principals have taken in trying to lead turnaround. Most principals have either not worked in a turnaround situation or have fallen short in a turnaround attempt, despite their best efforts. Not all of the principals highlighted in this report have successfully turned around their schools, but we intend for these examples to be helpful to other principals, teacher-leader teams, and principal supervisors who are looking to approach turnaround work with strategic, but less common actions in an effort to get new, better results. The authors draw on prior research to frame the examples. The report also draws on the observations of two organizations with deep experience in the turnaround field: Public Impact and the University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education. The examples of actions that are described in this report are organized into categories familiar to many principals in both typical schools and in turnaround schools, namely: vision, goals, data, change leadership, teachers and leaders, instruction, and strategic partnerships. These categories are also tied to domains and practices described in the Center on School Turnaround’s Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement: A Systems Framework.
The Center on School Turnaround at WestEd (CST) has released the Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement. This framework was to assist states, districts, and schools in leading and managing rapid improvement efforts. The framework shares, in practical language, the critical practices of successful school turnaround in four domains, or areas of focus, that research and experience suggest are central to rapid and significant improvement: turnaround leadership, talent development, instructional transformation, and culture shift. At a more fine-grained level, the framework then offers examples of how each practice would be put into action at each level of the system.
The framework reflects the understanding that local context and implementation influence the outcomes of any improvement initiative. It further reflects lessons learned from the federal School Improvement Grants program:
A successful school turnaround requires a systems approach with coherent guidance and support from the state and district to complement the actions of the school; and
A successful school turnaround is more than the initial jolt of bold changes in structure, authority, and personnel; it includes phases in which effective practices and processes are routinized and sustained.
The domains and practices identified in the framework that follows apply across the system of the state education agency, the local education agency, and the school. For each practice, the roles of the state, the district, and the school are briefly outlined, providing examples of their reciprocal roles in successful school improvement efforts. The domains are not meant to be considered in isolation, or to be approached in a step-by-step manner. The domains and practices overlap, with some consistent threads tying them together, including the need for clear goals and expectations, for tailored support, and for accountability to encourage a positive environment that is focused on improving student achievement in the lowest performing schools. Further, the practices are not provided in a suggested order of implementation. A turnaround plan should consider the most appropriate prioritization of the implementation of practices. Ideally, many practices will be implemented simultaneously, but it would be difficult and even counterproductive to focus on too many areas or practices at once.
CST Associate Director, Sam Redding, gave two keynote addresses and presented at one breakout session at South South Dakota’s Priority and Focus School Summit. The SEA summit had 245 participants.
Successful school turnarounds—characterized by quick, strategic changes in school culture and systems that result in dramatic improvement in student achievement in persistently low-performing schools—are hard work and difficult to achieve and sustain. This report sets out an approach to measure turnaround success that states, districts, and schools can adopt in their own contexts.
The State Policy Brief Series highlights state policies, regulations, practices, laws, or other tools intended to create the necessary conditions for school and/or district turnaround. Each brief includes a tool overview, its development process, its impact, and lessons learned that could assist other education agencies interested in enacting something similar.
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.