Leading Indicators of School Turnarounds:

How to Know when Dramatic Change is On Track

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Leading-Indicators-of-SchooIn school turnarounds, leading indicators can provide early evidence about whether a school is on track – and if not, how to intervene to increase the odds of success. In this report, we summarize the research and experience from other settings in which leaders have long relied on leading indicators to enhance the likelihood of success. From these lessons, we identify key principles and processes to guide the design and use of leading indicators in education. We also present a starting list of leading indicators and a proposed monitoring timetable for district, state, and other education leaders to use in turnaround schools.

Key lessons include:

  1. Start with known success factors. In turnaround schools, this includes the competencies of the turnaround leader, the leader’s actions, steps that all staff members take to achieve goals according to plan, and common routines that must improve in any school seeking learning gains.
  2. Use frequent and first-hand monitoring. Most districts and states need to monitor turnaround schools much more often than they do, collecting and analyzing data on a monthly or quarterly basis. Monitoring should also involve hands-on, active engagement such as weekly site visits and collaboration by district, state, or partner staff.
  3. Act on early indicators of success or failure. Where leading indicators show that an effort is not on track, states and districts must be willing to provide targeted intervention and, if that fails, pursue dramatic change.Early indicators of success in turnaround schools might prompt decreased monitoring, performance rewards, or opportunities for highly capable leaders to extend their reach to more students.
  4. Collect mountains of data, and narrow to the most predictive over time. Because success factors in school turnarounds are just beginning to be understood, district and state leaders should begin with expansive data collection on numerous possible leading indicators, and narrow the list over time to those indicators that have the strongest and most persistent connections to student success.

School Turnarounds in Colorado

Untangling a Web of Supports for Struggling Schools

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donnellKaythumbOver the past few years, Colorado and the nation have dramatically increased their focus on the needs of students in struggling schools, offering a new approach to school turnarounds and directing an unprecedented amount of resources to districts and schools to implement dramatic change strategies. This report, commissioned by the Donnell-Kay Foundation, examines the recent federal and state policies that affect low-performing schools in Colorado and offers several potential areas to strengthen and improve its approach in future years, including building the supply of talent to support school turnarounds, supporting rigorous turnaround strategies, and engaging in rigorous monitoring and rapid retry.

Over the past few years, Colorado and the nation have dramatically increased their focus on the needs of students in struggling schools, offering a new approach to school turnarounds and directing an unprecedented amount of resources to districts and schools to implement dramatic change strategies. This report, commissioned by the Donnell-Kay Foundation, examines the recent federal and state policies that affect low-performing schools in Colorado and offers several potential areas to strengthen and improve its approach in future years, including building the supply of talent to support school turnarounds, supporting rigorous turnaround strategies, and engaging in rigorous monitoring and rapid retry.

    • Building the supply of talent to support school turnarounds. Emerging research about turnarounds within education and from other sectors suggests that one of the most critical elements in their success is having the right leader at the helm. In most Colorado districts, the supply of turnaround principals and qualified external providers is far too short to meet the needs of all persistently low-achieving schools. The state therefore has a powerful role in helping build the talent pipelines by supporting the recruitment, selection and training of turnaround leaders for struggling schools.
      In addition, there is a severe shortage of organizations equipped to manage the full operations of schools, the type of arrangement envisioned under the “restart” improvement model in both Colorado and federal law. CDE and its partners can work to build the supply of these organizations in Colorado, such as by working with existing organizations that incubate new or replicate existing restart providers, and engaging in its own efforts to encourage and support highly-successful charter operators to expand into the turnaround space.
    • Supporting rigorous turnaround strategies. National surveys of states’ use of SIG funds show that very few districts have strategically replaced leaders or a significant portion of schools’ staff, and even fewer have used restart options such as chartering or contracting. A similar trend is playing out in Colorado. CDE and other state leaders can help foster more dramatic efforts at the local level by engaging in a focused and rigorous review process for schools’ improvement plans, and closely examining each district’s commitment to success.
  • Engaging in rigorous monitoring and rapid retry. Turning around a persistently failing school is enormously difficult work. Research from across sectors suggests that dramatic change efforts are successful on the first try only 30 percent of the time. In the education setting, with its broader restrictions over staffing, budgeting and operations, the success rate may be even lower. This is why it is so important to track leading indicators of success or failure to learn whether a school’s turnaround is on track early in the effort – and to act on the data that those indicators reveal. CDE should use its authority under both the federal School Improvement Grant program and the state Education Accountability Act to discontinue funds or intervene early in schools that are not on track.

Beyond Classroom Walls: Developing Innovative Work Roles for Teachers

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staffing_models-thumbnailThe job of “teacher” in most schools today remains centered on full-time classroom responsibilities that are defined by the location, timing, and schedule of the school day and a one-teacher-per-classroom model. But particularly in today’s budget climate, interest in quality-focused job redesigns is increasing among forward-thinking state, district, and charter school leaders. In this report, prepared by Julie Kowal and Dana Brinson for the Center for American Progress, we profile two organizations—the Rocketship Education network of charter schools and the Fairfax County, VA school district— that have redesigned the job of teacher to provide new types of leadership opportunities and let great teachers reach larger numbers of students.  A brief presentation, prepared for the Joyce Foundation, outlines key findings.

Experiences in these case study sites suggest that as they pursue similar changes to teachers’ traditional roles, other districts, schools, and charter school leaders can build on early innovations by:

  • Extending teachers’ reach beyond traditional classroom boundaries, through redesigns of both organizational structures and job responsibilities that enable great teachers to directly or indirectly reach larger number of students beyond their classroom walls;
  • Considering teachers’ individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as their overall effectiveness in improving student learning, when conceiving and designing new work roles;
  • Designing roles with both students’ and teachers’ interests in mind, including a clear path between new roles for teachers and the student learning gains they want to achieve;
  • Ensuring long-term financial sustainability for what is too often an add-on program by keeping costs in mind from the start; and
  • Challenging traditional expectations by embarking on a campaign with teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders to demonstrate the benefits of innovative roles for both teachers and students.

Because these new types of work roles are still in the earliest stages, education leaders must also be mindful of internal systems and local and state policies that may hinder successful implementation. These policy and systems considerations include:

  • Collective bargaining provisions
  • Class size mandates/certification requirements
  • Payroll/HR administration
  • Technological limitations

The report provides recommendations for each of these design and policy considerations; as well as details about each organization, the impetus for the program, and how teachers’ work roles have changed to inform and improve reform efforts in other districts and schools across the country.
Julie Kowal presented the report at an April 14, 2011 forum at the Center for American Progress, available here.

Using Chartering to Meet Demands of NCLB

Using Chartering to Meet Demands of NCLB

In this federally funded initiative, Public Impact partnered with Education Commission of the States to help states and districts use chartering to meet relevant requirements of No Child Left Behind. Through meetings of policymakers and a series of publications on critical issues, the project focuses on using chartering to create new options for families and to intervene in chronically low-performing schools.