Rhode Island describes a robust system of school improvement, particularly for schools in comprehensive support, which seeks to balance the role between the state, district, and community.
Nearly every component of its plan could be a model for others—including its approach to provide information to districts and support evidence-based activities, to embed community feedback in the process, to ensure rigorous and dramatic change in schools that fail to improve over time, and to provide resources in targeted, strategic ways to support district and school efforts.
The majority of Rhode Island’s activities will be supported through a School Improvement Resource Hub, which the state will populate with resources and tools.
The hub will include (1) information about evidence-based strategies and districts in the state that have successfully implemented them; (2) resources to support districts, such as a needs assessment template, guides to develop improvement plans, rubrics to review resource allocation in schools, and tools to support data analysis to track progress against goals; and (3) information to help districts identify partners. To build the hub, Rhode Island will be releasing a Request for Information to vet available resources from districts and third parties. The state is also developing a framework to approve all comprehensive support plans and will provide it to districts.
Rhode Island’s plan also introduces an innovative School Redesign policy.
School Redesign plans must be approved by the Rhode Island Council for Elementary and Secondary Education, with five distinct approaches that are backed by evidence and include significant changes in the way schools are governed and managed: Empowerment; Restart; Small Schools of Choice; LEA-Proposed Redesign; and School Closure. The level of specificity and rigor of these strategies, along with the evidence Rhode Island provides to support each approach, should be commended. While only required of schools in comprehensive support that fail to meet the exit criteria, districts may voluntarily adopt Redesign at any point—and are encouraged to do so, given additional resources made available to support these schools.
Rhode Island should be commended for its smart choices with regard to the 7 percent Title I set-aside for school improvement activities.
Half of the set-aside will be distributed by formula, while the remaining half will support three competitive awards: Innovation, School Redesign, and Dissemination. Innovation grants will help support improvement aligned with state strategic priorities and may identify new evidence-based strategies to add to the hub. School Redesign grants support either district planning or implementation of a Redesign plan. Dissemination grants pair districts with identified schools with districts that have implemented a strategy that improved student outcomes in a similar school. All three of these designs are exemplars for other states.
Rhode Island also includes the criteria it will use to evaluate district applications for formula grants to ensure that districts’ plans are comprehensive, include evidence-based strategies and criteria to monitor the success of the plan, and discuss how it will be sustained over time. If districts don’t meet the criteria, funding will be reallocated to competitive awards. That said, the state should also indicate if and how it intends to provide direct student services using the optional 3 percent Title I set-aside.