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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!

October 28, 2014

Building a better reporting system

As readers know, CPE is all about the importance of using data and research to craft effective school policy and practice. We also encourage everyone who has an interest in public schools to look at data when gauging their quality. Unfortunately, getting that data isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. Even when found, it’s often presented in long tables, complicated graphs and confusing formats that obscure rather than shed light on school performance.

The Data Quality Campaign sought to address the all-too-common lack of quality in the way states report school data to the public. DQC recently convened a task force of national education experts and advocates — an effort we were proud to be part of — to identify best practices in state reporting systems. The results of our meetings are contained in the publication, Empowering Parents and Communities through Quality Public Reporting, released today.

The recommendations are intended for state policymakers to inform their design of state data systems. These systems should feature the following characteristics:

  • First, the data is trustworthy. There’s obviously little value in data that is wrong or out-of-date so every effort must be made to ensure accuracy. In addition, an essential part of gaining the public’s trust in data systems is protecting student privacy. Indeed, parental concerns about who has access to their child’s data and how it is used have grown a lot over the last year. Both states and districts have a role in putting fail-safe limits on access to individual students’ data. (To learn more about how, NSBA’s general counsel’s office produced this excellent guide on assuring student data privacy and CPE/DQC developed this data privacy fact sheet for school boards.)
  • Good systems are also focused on meeting people’s information needs. Many state systems were developed with a view toward compliance with federal and state regulations. If this information was also useful to educators, administrators, policymakers, parents and press, it was merely by happenstance, not design. A good data system, however, is designed with the consumer in mind, going beyond compliance to provide a real service to education stakeholders.
  • State reporting is timely and ongoing. The data collection and vetting process can often delay public reporting for as long as two years. This doesn’t help teachers or parents who need to respond to students’ needs in real time, not long after the fact. The same is true for administrators and school boards who need current data to inform their decisions.
  • Finally, in a good system, data is easy to find, access and understand. Some state report cards are buried in the department of education website. Many others are hard to navigate or present the data in ways that are difficult to interpret. The DQC report features state-of-the-art data systems from Illinois, Ohio and others that demonstrate the possibilities in presenting data that is easy for non-statisticians to locate, understand and, ultimately, use effectively.

While the Empowering Parents report is intended for state policymakers, the accompanying fact sheets are written specifically for parents, administrators and school boards and they discuss how these different stakeholders can use data and be strong advocates for better data systems. — Patte Barth

Filed under: CPE,Data,Parents,School boards,teachers — Tags: , , , — Patte Barth @ 3:43 pm

July 18, 2014

How productive is your district?

Since the onset of the great recession, most states have been implementing higher academic standards while simultaneously cutting funding for their public schools. Basically, school districts across the country have been asked to do more with less. As I wrote in Cutting to the Bone there is simply no fat left to cut to enable school boards to balance their budgets. Many would have to make cuts in areas that would directly impact student achievement. Hence, the goal is no longer to find cuts that avoid negative impacts on students, it is to find cuts that have the least negative impact, even if they certainly benefited some students.

While school funding is unlikely to return to pre-recession levels anytime soon school boards continue to fight for the revenues they need to ensure all students are prepared for success following high school. In the mean time, boards are doing the best they can with the resources available to them. However, the Center for American Progress (CAP) argues in a recent report some districts are getting a better return on investment of their education dollars than similar districts. This means there are some districts that are spending less and are obtaining better results in terms of student outcomes than other districts within their state that serve similar students.

Accurately calculating the return on investment of school districts is notoriously complex due to such issues as differing accounting practices between districts and districts providing different services. As such the data is not always available to make a true apples to apples comparison of what districts spend on providing similar services. The report itself even points out the limitations of comparing the productivity of school districts. However, such limitations shouldn’t prevent districts from finding out for themselves how their productivity compares to other districts in their state. CAP’s new interactive web tool allows districts to do just that. Such comparisons may not be perfect but they provide a starting point to determine how effectively districts are spending the dwindling funds they have. Districts can use these comparisons to find out how more productive districts are using their dollars and determine if such practices would benefit their district.

Access to such information-as imperfect as it is– provides school boards an additional resource on how to they can best utilize their limited funds to improve student outcomes.—Jim Hull

Filed under: funding,Public education — Tags: , , — Jim Hull @ 1:22 pm

August 14, 2013

Traditional Public Schools Respond to Charter Competition

ChessIn a free market, economic theory states that competition is the driving force of productivity, supply and demand, and the panacea for monopolistic control.  Education reformers have long sought to build a public  education system that closely resembles the free market with its uninhibited choices, limited government involvement, and private goods.

In a recent Education Next article entitled “Competition with Charters Motivates Districts,” the pro-charter authors explain the impact of charter schools on traditional public schools’ enrollment, revenue, and student achievement.  The article opens with a typical charter advocate’s selling point: introducing charter schools into the mix of public education creates competition (for scarce funding resources, particularly) that motivates low-performing districts to improve and “reclaim” the students (read: funding) that are rightfully theirs.

Another positive externality of charter schools is their alleged ability to raise the bar for all schools by optimizing student learning/engagement and producing exemplary standardized test scores.  However, the 2013 CREDO report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (summarized here by the Center for Public Education), demonstrates the vast majority of charter schools are no more effective than traditional public schools.

Nonetheless, charter schools are popping up all over the country and are here to stay.  The next step is to examine whether they are having an effect, and to what extent, on the operation of traditional public schools.

What is the visible evidence of the impact of charter schools on traditional public schools? According to the authors:

  • Charter schools have seen a 59% jump in enrollment from 2007 to now, from 1.3 million to 2 million students (with 53 million students currently enrolled in traditional public schools)
  • Districts across the country have adopted competitive marketing and recruitment strategies to compete for students (e.g., posting promotional flyers for New York City public schools)
  • From 1999 to 2009, each year saw a 20% increase in the number of CMOs (for-profit charter school operators) in the marketplace

In what ways are charter schools influencing the traditional public schools?

  • Washington, D.C., Phoenix, and Los Angeles are among the metropolitan areas to emulate successful charter school practices in their traditional public schools
  • Charter schools are being rapidly introduced in high-poverty areas (such as in New York City under former Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education, Joel Klein), thus creating more challenges for public school enrollment and funding
  • Atlanta Public Schools recently won an ED grant to co-participate in training led by the KIPP Metro Atlanta
  • Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and others are partnering with CMOs and education management organizations (EMOs) to strengthen public school operations

What is next?

  • School districts will likely continue to reassess their strategies and attitudes toward charters, as they adjust to the influx of outside competition
  • More partnerships between traditional public schools and charter schools are likely as schools recognize that putting students’ needs first requires sharing best practices
  • Traditional public schools will likely increase their marketing efforts (or launch initial marketing strategies) in their communities to recruit students who may be considering charter school enrollment, thus utilizing scarce financial resources in uncharted waters
  • School districts may follow Denver school board members’ lead in encouraging administrators to analyze data regarding charter school effectiveness prior to committing additional resources to charter and innovation schools
  • Districts may begin opening more pilot or innovation schools to bridge the gaps between high-performing charters and low-performing traditional public schools
  • Unfortunately, access to a high-quality public education may start to be seen as more of a consumer (private) good than a public good, per David Tyack and Larry Cuban in Tinkering Toward Utopia (1995)

In responding to change and competition, traditional public schools would be wise to take some Darwinian advice: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Christine Duchouquette

Filed under: Charter Schools,CPE,Public education — Tags: , — Christine @ 1:42 pm

November 15, 2012

The school of first choice

The most difficult decision school districts face is whether or when to close a school. As Tolstoy famously wrote of unhappy families, every school closing is unhappy in its own way.  Sometimes, shrinking enrollments make it impossible to defend keeping the doors open. Other times the cost of modernizing crumbling facilities is prohibitive. Still other schools are targeted for persistently low achievement.

And sometimes it’s all of these things. The Chicago Public Schools’ board of education recently announced its plans to shut down one of its neighborhood high schools by 2015. According to the Huffington Post, Dyett High School has pass rates of just 10 percent in math and around 15 percent in reading, and over half of its ninth-graders never see commencement. The story reports wholly inadequate facilities including a technology lab with ancient computers that still use floppy discs. What’s worse, the school is hemorrhaging students who are abandoning Dyett for charter schools outside the community.

Given everything that’s wrong, Dyett should be a candidate for obsolescence. And yet, the community is not ready to give up. Hundreds of students, teachers and parents have staged protests in City Hall and the mayor’s office. They have drawn up plans for an educational program focused on green technologies and attracted local investments. Said one student, “I want to help keep my school strong.”  But it may be too little too late. The cruel irony for the remaining students is that if their high school closes, their new default school is reported to have an even worse academic record than Dyett’s.

These decisions are being confronted by school boards and communities across the country. We recently found out here, for example, that 20 DC schools will be shut down in the next couple of years. Like their Chicago counterparts, the DC parents are angry and not afraid to push back.

The reality is, there will always be some school somewhere that needs to be closed. But making that call is a decision of last resort, one that should only be made with full transparency and after all other options have been exhausted. Parents want the best educational opportunity for their child that they are able to find. But for the vast majority of families the neighborhood public school is their school of first choice. The challenge to school leaders and policymakers is to do everything they can to make that choice work. — Patte Barth

Filed under: Charter Schools,Parents,Public education — Tags: , — Patte Barth @ 3:45 pm

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