Some states are taking an active role developing their vision for change and integrating that vision throughout every facet of their school improvement strategies. Other states have taken a hands-off approach, emphasizing district innovation and autonomy.
See recommendations of best practices from the Check State Plans: Promise to Practice peer reviewers, along with examples of which states are doing this well, and how they are choosing to approach various aspects of school improvement.
Get clear on desired student outcomes and the state’s strategy to achieve them. Whether and how well a state communicates a coherent, compelling message and path forward plays a determining role in the ultimate success of its strategy.
Louisiana has committed to and clearly articulated a statewide improvement strategy, integrating all their efforts around a vision that every student has access to grade level instruction daily, using a rigorous and high-quality curriculum every teacher has been trained to use.
Align internal resources and staff around the central vision. States should consider creating cross-divisional teams with differentiated expertise to oversee and monitor the progress of the schools. This differentiated approach can help streamline funding, data and resources provided to districts.
Consolidate federal and state funding to leverage change. States can combine Title II and Title IV dollars with Title I funding to better align their strategic interventions with their state theory of action. States and districts can use the funding to address academic, social and emotional needs as well as educator workforce issues.
Georgia offers the Consolidation of Funds Initiative for certain districts to be able to consolidate federal, state and local funds into Title I schools in order to be able to use those funds more flexibly.
Create a funding model that distributes resources to districts based upon their needs assessment and school improvement funding application. Not all school improvement needs are created equal. States need to put in place a process through which districts first indicate the type of support needed, and states then allocate resources accordingly. When districts can’t ascertain needs on their own, the state should provide guidance and assistance to help districts get clear on the support needed. Rather than providing funding to an unprepared school, or worse, fail to provide funding at all, states should partner with struggling districts to build their capacity prior to awarding implementation funding.
Colorado developed a streamlined application to award services and funding. The application is organized into four pathways: exploration supports, district designed and led, offered supports and continuation. Each pathway has different criteria and methods of awarding funds. The ultimate intent is to develop a robust process of matching schools’ needs with rigorous, evidence-based strategies and adequate resources.
Use funding to address systemic inequities within the system. Targeting resources that address inequities beyond academics can be a powerful tool.
New York uses Title I funding to create a socioeconomic integration pilot program whereby districts with a poverty rate of at least 60% and at least 10 schools can apply for funding to better integrate the school systems in an effort to boost achievement while also desegregating their schools.
Require districts to demonstrate their capacity to support any of the options selected as a part of the implementation strategy. It is critical for districts to understand their own strengths and capacity to support schools through the improvement process in order for the improvement efforts to be sustainable.
Indiana has created separate school improvement grant applications for planning and implementation. Before districts are awarded planning grants, they must demonstrate readiness through the application. If districts do not demonstrate readiness for the application they submit, the state is ready with supports to ensure that all districts and schools are prepared to engage in the appropriate stage of school improvement.
Require districts to demonstrate how their school improvement strategies will address the achievement gap and subgroup needs. Intervention strategies should be tailored to the needs of the school and the students served. This should be reinforced by having districts demonstrate in their application for funding their plan to address the achievement gap and subgroup needs.
Nevada explicitly asks that districts include in their application narrative a description of how their chosen strategy or strategies for low performing schools address equity gaps. The state also asks districts to use equity-oriented data such as behavior, attendance and personnel to determine root causes in their needs assessment.
New Mexico holds one hour “will and capacity” interviews with district or school leaders interested in pursuing their Principles Pursuing Excellence program, one of their intervention models. During this interview, leaders must demonstrate their commitment to closing the achievement gap and their belief that all students can achieve high expectations.
Work with districts to establish a continuous monitoring cycle. Establishing key milestones and timelines, such as a 30-60-90-day cycle, for leaders to review data and make decisions about the progress is essential to a continuous improvement model. Establishing a regular check in at the school level – weekly or monthly – is a critical component as well.
New Mexico requires districts and schools to use NM-DASH (Data, Accountability, Sustainability and High Achievement), a web-based action-planning, process management tool to help them develop school improvement plans and identify evidence-based interventions. This system aligns the states accountability and educator evaluation systems with the school improvement efforts. Districts and schools are required check in with officials continuously and use data from NM-DASH to gauge the effectiveness of the improvement strategies.
Idaho establishes monthly meetings with districts and their assigned capacity builder where district and school leaders meet with representatives from a cross-team at the state to discuss progress, challenges and next steps. The state uses the information from these meetings to target supports or programs based on identified needs.
Establish an outreach team to monitor school and district performance.
Louisiana formed a network of field teams whose primary function is to serve as the liaison between the LDOE and the schools. This network has two primary goals, to ensure that 100% of teachers are implementing a high-quality curriculum and 100% of principals are using curriculum implementation observation tools to give feedback to all teachers. The field teams visit every classroom in every identified school at least four times a year. Louisiana also overhauled the monitoring and observation tool to align with the new priorities – ensuring 100% of teachers are implementing a rigorous and high-quality curriculum.
Have a rigorous and sophisticated needs assessment that walks districts and schools through a process to identify root causes of underperformance and links to practical strategies. Our peers recognize that without a proper needs assessment tool that can effectively capture the quality of the teaching and the rigor of the curriculum, the effectiveness of the strategy is obsolete.
Tennessee employs a comprehensive approach to supporting schools. The school improvement application serves as a step-by-step primer for districts in how to do a detailed needs assessment, identify common themes, do a root cause analysis to identify then prioritize the areas of greatest need, and then develop goals and an implementation plan to address each high-priority area.
Arizona employs a rigorous and comprehensive needs assessment. The state’s guidance contains a thorough set of equity-oriented questions in the root cause analysis, such as those related to discipline, truancy and educator bias. It also provides district and school staff with decision-making tools and exercises.
Provide districts with evidence-based practice guides and resources. While ESSA requires that evidence-based interventions are used in school improvement, states can go above the letter of the law and do more to enable their districts and schools to tie interventions to the outcomes of their need’s assessments.
Connect the state’s school improvement efforts and educator equity plan. States were required to develop equity plans to address the pervasive issue of low income and minority students being disproportionately taught by inexperienced and ineffective teachers. Given the connection between student performance and the effectiveness of the teacher, alignment between state school improvement and equity plans is critical to ensure every student is taught by a highly effective teacher.
Vet external partners. Districts often rely on external partners to help them develop and implement their intervention plans and address capacity issues. Therefore, states should carefully support and monitor partner engagements and develop quality control mechanisms. This could include:
» Creating a template application for district leaders to use when contracting with outside entities.
» Creating a vetted list of approved vendors who are familiar with the states process and turnaround vision.
» Hosting vendor fairs or summits where approved contractors and district leaders convene together to receive training on the school improvement strategy.
The Illinois State Board of Education developed the IL-EMPOWER prototype contract for districts in an effort to provide technical assistance and support for initiating a new contract with an approved professional learning Partner. The prototype contract helps districts choose an approved third-party provider who will support the district’s ability to implement a strategy aligned with the IL-EMPOWER system.
Minnesota provides grant opportunities for regional service centers to assist districts and schools in implementing research-based interventions.
Indiana, Louisiana and Nevada held annual summits connecting district leaders to approved vendors. These organized events also serve as opportunities for district leaders to connect with one another and exchange insights and recommendations.
Develop strategies to address the capacity of leaders in all schools
In Idaho, each school is assigned a “capacity builder improvement coach” shortly after being identified for comprehensive support. The capacity builders play an active role in supporting the identified schools with their improvement efforts, including supporting the school in developing an approvable school wide improvement plan, attending check in phone calls with the state and helping establish a school-based leadership team to sustain the work.
North Dakota uses a multi-tiered system of supports to support their school improvement efforts. Through this model, districts and schools are paired with a coach who works with the identified school to conduct an assessment and develop an improvement plan. The coaches check in with the school leaders three times throughout the year and work with the leaders to evaluate the progress and determine an appropriate path for the following school year. They then report back to the state on progress and also build the capacity of state staff themselves to support school improvement efforts.
Encourage and facilitate engagement with stakeholders at every opportunity. For school improvement plans to take root and succeed, they must reflect early, regular input and commitment of state officials, local leaders, education advocates, organizations that serve families and children, higher education institutions and others. This can include engaging stakeholders as partners in decision making, providing capacity building around meaningful engagement and connecting districts with vetted, experienced strategic partners with a track record of results.
Louisiana passed Act 555 which mandates each public school to host a public meeting whereby the school leaders present their action plan. The presentations are required to include school and student performance data, as well as a timeline for the implementation of the plan and timeline of achievement goals.
Indiana requires each district to form a team that includes, at a minimum, at least one representative from the following stakeholder groups: school leadership team members, educators, staff and family and community members. The district must describe how the identified school plans to meaningfully engage stakeholders throughout improvement implementation. The school must set at least one S.M.A.R.T. goal for its ongoing stakeholder engagement efforts and at least two short-term benchmarks to monitor progress. For each benchmark, the school is required to define clear measure(s) of success and a target date for completion.
Provide training to local leaders. Some states require districts to provide an explanation of when and how stakeholders were involved in both the development and implementation of proposed activities whereas others required the local leaders to sign the application to verify support.
Texas’ Lone Star Governance program promotes sustainability and capacity by providing local governing teams—school boards in collaboration with their superintendents—with a continuous improvement model focused on improving student outcomes. The program is built around the five key points of Texas’ Framework for School Board Development: vision; accountability; structure; unity; and advocacy.
Encourage districts to think about the sustainability of their improvement efforts from the beginning. Helping identified schools exit out of improvement is incredibly difficult and often dependent on many factors including leadership, funding and political will. States can use many strategies to support these efforts, including: incorporating sustainability in their district application and scoring rubric; planning annual evaluation of approaches statewide; and formally studying their improvement efforts.