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March 19, 2015

Leading the Change to higher performance

Leading the Change

Public schools are excelling. Public schools are in the toilet. It seems like the rhetoric around public education in America these days goes from one extreme to the other, divorced from any history or context. The reality, as always, is more nuanced. There are public schools that rival the most prestigious establishments in the world and there are public schools whose performance is, admittedly, abysmal.

That’s actually the first step: admitting there are schools in the system whose performance leaves much to be desired . The second step is to find out why because until you can identify and articulate the problem, you won’t be able to implement the appropriate solution.

This, in essence, is what CPE’s work and mission is all about. This has also been the focus of NSBA’s current president, Anne Byrne, who wanted her tenure to not only highlight the good work occurring in public schools but the work that still remains to move all our schools forward.

Because while public school students are performing higher and graduating in record numbers, we also know that in many districts, one or more schools seem to languish at the bottom despite the efforts of teachers and desires of parents. Understandably, school board members can feel helpless trying to turn them around— though, if it were easy to turnaround chronically low-performing schools, there would be no low-performing schools in the first place. As is often the case, struggling schools are emblematic of deeper issues that extend beyond the campus grounds, issues like poverty, disenfranchised communities and inadequate infrastructure.

Enter Leading the Change, a set of data-driven decision-making tools to help school boards lead the transformation of chronically low-performing schools into high-quality institutions.

Currently housed on our Data First site, the tools build off the Data First decision-making process, which was developed by CPE in partnership with the California School Boards Association, the Illinois Association of School Boards, and the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Informed by research on what works to turnaround schools, as well as real-world experience and insight from a diverse working group of nine school board leaders, the Leading the Change toolkit represents the best thinking on effective local school governance as it relates to tackling underperforming schools.

While designed with school board members in mind, we think this is a valuable resource for anyone interested in getting beyond the rhetoric and blame game that seems to typify school reform debate, and toward meaningful progress for all students and all communities.

Let the change begin!

July 18, 2013

Lowest performing schools to get helping hands from AmeriCorps

Turnaround Yesterday, the US Department of Education announced the winners in the first round of an inaugural program aimed at improving persistently low-achieving schools. Yes, I know this sounds familiar.

Competitive grant programs have become a staple at ED, much to the consternation of many on the Hill. But the wisdom and the efficacy of making financially strapped-states and school districts scrap for funds to address the poorest-performing schools in the nation is a discussion best left for another time and another blog— although, in truth, adequate funding and performance are hard to separate.

Regardless, the announcement caught my attention for another reason.

ED had initially announced the launch of the School Turnaround AmeriCorps program— a $15 million joint effort with the Corporation for National and Community Service that would place 650 AmeriCorps members in about 70 of the worst-performing schools— back in February on the heels of yet another report showing how America’s high school dropout problem was costing this country:  $1.8 billion in tax revenue each year, to be exact.

We were in the midst of pulling together a report of our own, an analysis of the so-called school turnaround strategies being rolled into many federal and state education programs with frightening speed.

What we discovered in Which Way Up was even more frightening. To begin with, very little data exists regarding the effectiveness of the four basic intervention models (school closure, restart, transformation and turnaround) embedded in competitions like Race to the Top and the School Improvement Grant program. And the research that has been conducted on these strategies shows mixed outcomes, at best.

Yes, first-year data from ED on the progress of School Improvement Grant recipients is mostly positive, particularly at the elementary level. But as we all know, one year’s worth of data does not a trend make.

And stories from the field and just plain common-sense, suggests that drastic measures like shuttering schools and wholesale replacement of staff, are disruptive and not necessarily in the good and moving forward kind of way.

Which is why I’m more than curious about how this latest initiative will serve the students, staff and communities in these chronically underperforming schools. These schools deserve our attention and I don’t need to run down the laundry list of why, when really the question has always been “how.”

How do we raise the achievement at these schools? And how do we make sure those changes are sustainable and not just a one-off?

I hope flooding these schools with dedicated, cause-driven individuals, the type that usually are drawn to AmeriCorps work, is the answer. But then again … aren’t those the same types who are usually drawn to schools and teaching?  Hmm, I guess we better go back and look at the strategy.

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