Standing united behind the U.S. Department of Education’s blueprint to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) introduced a bill earlier this month to target federal assistance and interventions to the nation’s persistently low-performing schools.

“There are students across the country who are currently finishing out the academic year at schools that persistently fail to provide a quality education,” said Sen. Hagan in May at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress. “We cannot allow our children to go back to these schools in the fall without taking bold and aggressive action to change the odds for our students.”

The School Turnaround and Rewards or “STAR” Act (S. 959) would require states to identify Persistently Low-Performing Schools based on the percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level on state assessments and whether or not those schools are making progress. High schools with graduation rates below 60% could also be considered Persistently Low-Performing Schools. Each district serving one of these schools would be required to implement one of four school intervention models:

Transformation Model, which requires the district to: 1.) replace the principal if he or she has led the school for two or more years with a new principal who has demonstrated effectiveness in turning around a low-performing school; 2.) use evaluation systems to reward school leaders, teachers, and other staff who have increased student achievement or graduation rates and remove those individuals who have not; 3.) provide staff with ongoing, high-quality, job-embedded professional development; 4.) implement strategies to recruit and retain staff with the skills necessary to meet the needs of the school’s students; 5.) use data to identify and implement a research-based instructional program that has been proven to raise student achievement by no less than 10% in one year; 6.) establish schedules and strategies that provide increased learning time; 7.) promote the continuous use of student data to meet the academic needs of individual students; and 8.) provide appropriate social-emotional and community-oriented support services.

Restart Model, which requires the district to convert a school or close and reopen a school under a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization.

School Closure, which requires the district to close a school and enroll the students in other public schools served by the district that are higher performing, provided the other schools are within reasonable proximity to the closed school.

Turnaround Model, which requires the district to: 1) replace the principal; 2) give the new principal sufficient operational flexibility (including over staffing, the school day and school calendar, and budgeting) to fully implement a comprehensive approach to improving student outcomes; 3) use comprehensive evaluations to measure the effectiveness of staff who can work within the turnaround environment and retain no more than 50% of the staff; and 4) implement other activities required under the Transformation Model.

Also mirroring the administration’s ESEA blueprint, the STAR Act would require states to identify Reward Schools that are making significant progress in closing the achievement gap and increasing student academic achievement. Districts serving those schools could then use funding to provide financial awards for principals, teachers, and other staff; improve or enrich the schools’ programs; and provide increased flexibility in making budgeting and staffing decisions. States would also be encouraged to create communities of practice among Reward Schools and support mentoring partnerships between Reward Schools and other schools.

NASSP remains opposed to the four misguided school turnaround models that all require the principal’s replacement as a condition for receiving funds under the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. We are very concerned that the STAR Act would actually remove a principal who has led the school for only two years when the SIG program was revised to ensure that a principal could remain at the school for at least three years.

NASSP has a long history of implementing reform efforts with a high degree of fidelity utilizing the Breaking Ranks Framework and expertise of the NASSP staff and consultants. Schools should be able to use their federal funding to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment and implement a school improvement plan that truly meets the need of their students, and we will continue to advocate in support of such a proposal on Capitol Hill as ESEA reauthorization moves forward.

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