The purpose of this brief from the Center on School Turnaround (CST) at WestEd is to provide examples of how states and districts are working together to improve low-performing schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This brief includes a description of state and district roles in school improvement based on an analysis of 23 state ESSA plans. It also provides examples, based on interviews, of how 10 states are carrying out those roles.
Policy & Legislation
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.
Executive Summary Excerpt
Turning around low-performing schools remains a persistent challenge for education policymakers and practitioners. Because the factors that contribute to low performance are multifaceted, elective and sustainable solutions must address not only a wide array of systemic issues, but must also focus on specific practices within individual schools. To be successful and sustainable, these efforts must engage local districts and broader state education systems. In partnership with the University of Virginia (UVA), Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE) School Turnaround Specialist Program (STSP), eight states have implemented a strategy entailing the State Education Agencies (SEAs) assuming a leadership role to drive, manage, and support a targeted approach to turning around low-performing schools—a model which continues to evolve…
This monograph presents findings from an analysis, sponsored by the PLE, that examined eight states’ approaches to initiating a turnaround model and identified lessons learned to inform future practice for the PLE and for the field. While this analysis focuses on states that directly collaborated with the PLE, the emerging lessons have implications for any state interested in more proactively implementing and supporting targeted school turnaround efforts. As SEAs assume a more significant role in school reform under initiatives such as the federal Race to the Top, the School Improvement Grant program, and Elementary and Secondary Education Act Flexibility Waivers, findings from these states’ turnaround work can hone the efficacy of future efforts.
Four key themes emerged from interviews with state, regional, district, and school personnel actively engaged in school turnaround efforts in Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah:
- State education agencies can align resources, structures, and support systems to compel action at the local level.
- District ownership and school-level buy-in is critical to success.
- Intermediary and external entities introduce a breadth and depth of expertise, which can be critical to building capacity.
- Intentionally identifying qualified school leaders and holding them accountable for meeting high expectations is the fuel that drives school turnaround.
About the Author
Lauren Morando Rhim is president of LMR Consulting, an education policy, research, and evaluation consulting firm dedicated to leveraging research to inform practice in K–12 education. She consults with state departments of education, school districts, and nonprofits committed to creating high quality public schools for all students. A significant portion of her research, technical assistance, and writing focuses on characteristics of successful school turnarounds. She provides strategic program development, leads research inquiries, and conducts site visits for the University of Virginia’s School Turnaround Specialist Program. She is also a strategic partner and member of the leadership team of the Center on School Turnaround based at WestEd.
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 a 2012 Florida state policy that requires the 100 elementary schools (called the Low-100) with the lowest reading scores to add an additional hour of literacy instruction to their regular school day. The statute requires that the additional time be used for literacy, and the schools and districts have considerable flexibility in how they implement the policy, including the timing, approach, and professional development of staff. The state recently expanded the program to the 300 lowest-performing (in reading) elementary schools, but this brief focuses on the design and impact of the initial policy.
With chapters written by leading researchers and practitioners actively engaged in the work, this Edited Volume examines the role of the state education agency in school turnaround efforts. An emphasis is placed on practical application of research and best practice related to the State Education Agency’s (SEA’s) critical leadership role in driving and supporting successful school turnaround efforts.
The Edited Volume is organized around the Center on School Turnaround’s four objectives, with sections devoted to each:
- Create a Pro-Turnaround Statutory and Regulatory Environment
- Administer and Manage Turnaround Efforts Effectively
- Provide Targeted and Timely Technical Assistance to Local Educational Agencies and Schools
- Advocate and Lead to Build Support for Local Turnaround Efforts
Chapters include: a) brief literature review, b) examples from SEAs (and/or concrete examples of proposed SEA practices), and c) action principles for the SEA.