Turning Around Schools and Districts:
Standard Bearer Schools Process
Turning around schools and districts that persistently underperform is a national priority. It’s also an enormous challenge, involving five percent of U.S. schools and some three million children. The problems to be addressed are complex. And despite much activity nationwide and a growing body of promising practices, there is no proven roadmap to successful intervention.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools receiving Title 1 funds that fail to reach required proficiency levels for all students would lose much of their Title 1 funding and be required to implement one of four prescribed improvement programs. But since proficiency standards under that law have proven unrealistic, the federal government now offers waivers that allow schools and districts the flexibility to develop their own improvement approaches. In exchange, they must incorporate certain reforms—including specific changes in data systems and educator evaluation.
How CTAC helps
CTAC’s Standard Bearer Schools (SBS) approach has a long track record of helping schools tailor turnaround efforts so that they result in rapid—often dramatic—academic improvement. CTAC helps entire school communities examine multiple sources of data and use specific analytical tools to identify and address root causes, not just symptoms, of persistent underperformance. Armed with new insights and changed perceptions, educators use CTAC assistance and tools to take targeted action for school and district improvement.
The SBS process includes the following:
- Comprehensive Data Analysis. Sources of data analyzed include multiple years of state-assessment data disaggregated by socioeconomic status, ethnicity, disabilities, language and gender. These data are provided in user-friendly, compelling formats designed to foster insights. For example, charts showing comparisons of multiple schools enable school and district staff to see how their 6th grade students’ mathematics scores compare with those of 6th graders in demographically similar schools. CTAC provides the technical assistance and training to develop these data representations and training in how to interpret them, using a series of probing questions.
- Organizational Assessment Survey. Using this survey, teachers, coaches, teacher aides, school administrators, students, parents/guardians, and community representatives identify the school’s core organizational conditions, as seen through the eyes of all of its constituents. Based on extensive research, the survey assesses climate; school planning; teacher quality and evaluation; curriculum and instruction; assessment and accountability; principal effectiveness and support; parent involvement; student involvement; and district office support.
- School Profile. In this profile CTAC summarizes findings from the data analyses and survey and provides an analysis of their implications. We then pose a carefully constructed set of guiding questions and facilitate discussions among school site improvement teams and district staff to probe for and reveal the root causes of achievement lags.
- School Improvement Planning. CTAC works with staff and leadership teams to use the new knowledge gained from the above analyses to develop effective school and district change strategies. We provide intensive on-site technical assistance and training—to school site teams, principals, district office staff, and the school board—to support the development and planning process. We also assists districts in differentiating support to the sites and reallocating resources to address the most salient needs across sites.
Beliefs that guide our work
Two key beliefs shape CTAC’s approach to turning around underperformance:
- School and district improvement must go hand in hand. Efforts to assist underperforming schools in isolation from improving district practices will fail.
- School improvement planning must go beyond compliance. Improving student achievement requires engaging all stakeholders; rigorously analyzing disaggregated student achievement data; examining achievement data and organizational data; and probing for root causes, not symptoms, of low achievement.
CTAC has successfully partnered on turnaround efforts in multiple states, including:
Assisted by CTAC, the Murkland School in Lowell, Massachusetts, whose
student population is
55% Cambodian and 28% Hispanic, met its three-year targets in a single year. State test scores in 2010 showed a
13 point gain in English and a 20 point gain in math—the biggest gains of all 35 of the state’s “level 4” schools.
- Illinois. Partnering with the Decatur Public Schools, CTAC provided data analysis, technical assistance and training to elementary and middle schools in needs improvement status. In 2010, students made significant gains in mathematics, most impressively at the Stephen Decatur Middle School.
- New Jersey. CTAC conducted a longitudinal study of the impact of the state’s takeover of the Newark Public Schools. The study reported areas of improvement; factors that contributed to that improvement; barriers to school and district success; next steps for Newark and New Jersey; and criteria and strategies that states should adopt if they are contemplating school district takeovers.
- Ohio. CTAC provided four years of assistance to the Cleveland Public Schools. In this city of marked poverty, the district’s austere fiscal condition resulted in a court-induced state takeover.
- California. CTAC assisted schools in the Moreland School District, Campbell Union School District, and the Fremont Union High School District. Improvement plans that resulted helped these schools and districts increase student achievement the subsequent year.
- Florida. With the Duval County School District, CTAC assisted the Duval County School District in implementing comprehensive school improvement at the school and district levels. The effort included a professional development audit.
- Delaware. CTAC’s partnership with the Christina School District included providing data analysis, technical assistance and training to schools and administrators.
For more information on CTAC’s SBS process and school/district turnaround work, please see:
- Guide for Standard Bearer Schools: Focusing on Causes to Improve Student Achievement
- New Directions in Christina: Accomplishments for Children, Challenges Ahead
- Informed Decision-Making: An Introduction to Student Achievement and Teacher Data Comparisons