We always gain so much from the Principals of the Year when they gather as a group in Washington, DC. One particular lesson came last week from Litchfield (NH) High School principal Bob Manseau, a finalist for the 2012 MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year, who reminded us of the importance of celebrating our successes. We have so much going on in schools, he noted, that we don’t always stop to reflect on how far we’ve come and high-five one another upon reaching goals.
This lesson could not have come at a better time for NASSP. Embedded in the Department of Education’s (ED) recently announced waiver provisions is the requirement that states implement “rigorous interventions” for the lowest performing 5% of their schools. Unlike the School Improvement Grant (SIG) provisions for those same schools, however, this time ED eliminated the requirement that the principal be removed.
We thank ED for rethinking this misguided requirement. And having worked with ED staffers for the past several years, we’re happy to see they’ve taken our recommendations. From the first mention of the SIG “turnaround models”–all of which called for the removal of the principal–NASSP showed strong and reasoned opposition. At every opportunity–in print, at the podium, and in-person–NASSP reminded ED Secretary Arne Duncan and his staff of the folly of removing at whim the instructional leader of the school before assessing their capacity and will to effectively turn around the school. They heard us–all of us, including many principals from across the country who voiced their concerns to elected officials remotely and in-person during NASSP Capitol Hill Days.
So please join us now as we celebrate this success. And let this occasion remind you that our collective voice matters in public policy discussions. There’s only one way officials in Washington will know how federal policy will affect your school: You have to tell them. NASSP has set up a convenient tool, the Principal’s Legislative Action Center (www.nassp.org/plac), to make it easy for NASSP members to contact their representatives. Here you can send a draft letter to your Members of Congress in support of one or more NASSP key bills that will benefit your school down the line.
Additionally, please help us to raise awareness of the importance of the role of the principal throughout October, which NASSP has designated as National Principals Month and which Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has recognized through a Congressional resolution (S Res 277). Whether you hold a community meeting to show how your school’s successes benefit the community or you invite a local reporter to shadow you for a day, the public must know more intimately the critical role you play. As Congress turns its attention to ESEA reauthorization, your voice will become only more important. Please don’t hesitate to share it.
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.
The short-term fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution (CR) is set to expire next Friday, April 8, and Congress must negotiate another short-term or full-year CR or else face a government shutdown. The latest news is that Democrats, facing pressure from Republicans to cut more from the budget, have agreed to at least $23 billion in cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year, and the White House-anxious to keep the government running-seems to be in line with this agreement as well. However, House Speaker Boehner has said that $23 billion is “not the agreement,” intimating that he and other conservative members on both sides still want to cut $61 billion more from this fiscal year to achieve the $100 billion total in cuts for the year that they originally championed. We have heard that they will try to cut at least $33 billion and will not settle for $23 billion. Thus, a government shutdown at this point is not completely out of the question and NASSP will continue to update you on the latest news on this front. Looking ahead to FY 2012, we have heard that Congress will begin its FY ’12 budget markup next Wednesday where we’ll expect to see significant cuts to mandatory programs, so stay tuned for those updates.
The 2011 NASSP/Virco National Assistant Principals of the Year were in town this week. The state honorees visited their members of Congress Thursday on Capitol Hill, had a professional development session on Friday, and were recognized Friday evening with a gala. This week also marks National Assistant Principals Week (March 28-April 1), and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) yesterday introduced a Congressional resolution to recognize this week as such. Go here to read more about the National Assistant Principals of the Year program and here to read more about National Assistant Principals Week.
ESEA Talks Continue But No Agreement in Sight
Though Sen. Harkin announced in January his commitment to have an ESEA draft ready before Easter, agreements have yet to be reached on some of the most contentious issues three weeks before his proposed deadline. Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander said of the weekly, in-depth, bipartisan talks, “Some of the steps are easy, some of the steps are hard. We’ve reached the hard ones. We all hope we can succeed, but we haven’t succeeded yet.” However, public comments concerning the exact date of a draft unveiling have been few. Some in the education field have expressed concern that the draft will not be done by the deadline. Joel Packer, an education lobbyist for the Raben Group has stated “It’s hard for me to see this getting done by August”.
Civil Rights Groups Wary Of ESEA Reauthorization Priorities
A coalition of civil rights, education, and business groups issued a joint letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and members of Congress urging Congress to retain the current legislation’s emphasis on subgroup and minority accountability. The group worries new measures of accountability will allow schools to ignore subgroups in an effort to decrease the number of schools labeled as failing. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. We’re not in a place right now where we’re comfortable with where ELLs may end up with regard to accountability” says Raul Gonzales, director of legislative affairs for the National Council of La Raza. To read more, visit blogs.edweek.org
Teacher Unions Mobilize Against Anti-Labor Legislation
In response to rigorous efforts by state legislatures to curb labor union rights, teacher unions are revamping protest efforts and raising awareness of labor rights nationwide. Unions have successfully blocked anti-union legislation in Alabama and Wisconsin and are pressuring other state legislatures to drop anti-union bills. “With the resources left to them, I would think unions would fight as hard as they can, because this really is a threat to their organizational existence” says Charles Franklin, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin. To read more, visit www.edweek.org
Race to the Top Winners Juggle Ambitious Plans with Deadlines
As program deadlines near for Race to the Top winners, some winners have been forced to push back deadlines. The Department of Education has already approved six states that requested deadline extensions and scaled back initiatives. “These were comprehensive plans that had states really pushing the envelope,” says Ann Whalen, deputy director of the Education Department’s implementation and support program, “this flurry of amendments is largely due to states syncing up their applications to their scopes of work”. To read more, visit www.edweek.org.
Fired Principals Find New Education Jobs
Former principals ousted by the implementation of turnaround models have found employment as principals in other schools, assistant principals, and in some cases are even overseeing the turnaround programs in their former schools. “The musical chairs game is being played,” says Gerald Tirozzi, executive director of NASSP, “school districts, because they want the money, are finding creative ways to meet the requirements of the law”. To read more, visit www.edweek.org
Read the Center for American Progress’ recently report, “Increasing Principal Effectiveness: A Strategic Investment for ESEA”: www.americanprogress.org [pdf]
Starting this week, NASSP will post these updates each Friday. Be sure to check here each week for valuable and up-to-date news on federal education policy and NASSP advocacy!
- Education Week on Tuesday released its 2011 Quality Count report, which serves as “the most comprehensive ongoing assessment of the state of American education” (Education Week press release.) The theme for this year explored the impact of the economic downturn on American education, and its analysis tracks stimulus dollars and jobs saved, nationally and state-by-state. Additionally, the report grades and ranks each state on education using a variety of indicators including student achievement, equity, and college-and career-readiness. Go here to read the executive summary and access other sections of the report, and see how your state fared and why: www.edweek.org.
- The U.S. Department of Education announced it will host a national youth summit entitled Voices in Action on Saturday, February 26, 2011 in Washington, D.C. Go here to read the press release and get more info on how students can attend: www.ed.gov. (Registration for the conference will go live on January 20.)
NASSP Advocacy Update
On Tuesday Amanda Karhuse (Director of Government Relations) and other NASSP staff had a conference call with Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, at the U.S. Department of Education. The topic of discussion was the USDE’s guidance for anti-bullying programs. The same day, Mary Kingston (Manager of Government Relations) an Education Week Quality Counts event in Washington, DC around the release of its annual report. On Wednesday, Amanda Karhuse attended the Learning First Alliance (LFA) Board Meeting in Washington, DC. Later that afternoon, the LFA Board met with Representative John Kline, Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, on Capitol Hill. Join NASSP’s Federal Grassroots Network to read about the conversation with Rep. Kline and to stay up-to-date on other federal policy updates. Just email Mary Kingston at firstname.lastname@example.org. Amanda Karhuse and other members of the Literacy Working Group also met with staff for Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) and Chairman John Kline (R-MN) to discuss the LEARN Act. On Thursday, Mary Kingston attended a National Coalition for Public Education meeting in Washington, DC. Finally, on Friday, Amanda Karhuse attended a Women in Government Relations Education Task Force meeting in Washington, DC, while Mary Kingston attended an Educational Policy Forum on the legislative outlook for education in the 112th Congress in Washington, DC.
States Must Be More Productive With Less Money
State education chiefs are faced with the daunting challenge of having to do more with less with reduced budgets, while simultaneously pursuing ambitious and innovative reforms that will prove financially and politically challenging. Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, now President of the Alliance for Excellent Education, calls this period “education’s ‘General Motors’ moment” in states’ and districts’ efforts to both save money and produce better results at the same time. Read more here: www.edweek.org.
Secretary Duncan Defends the Four School Turnaround Models
In an interview Wednesday with Education Daily, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan continued to defend the four turnaround models that the Administration prescribed for the lowest-performing 5% of schools in each state, and that all replace the principal as an initial step. Says Duncan of his position: “This work is hard. It’s tough. It’s controversial,” Duncan said. “But where we’re not educating, we’re perpetuating poverty and social failure. Where you have dropout factories where 50, 60, 70 percent are dropping out, other wasn’t getting us where we need to go. If you boil down the different models, there are some basic principles: great teachers, great principals, and more time make a big difference.” Read more about the Department of Education’s point of view of the four models here: www.ed.gov.
NASSP has opposed these four models since they were announced, primarily for their replacement of the principal without due cause or a thorough evaluation, but also because of its unrealistic and over-prescriptive nature that expects the most rural regions of our country, some of which our members represent, to be able to find replacement principals and other staff. If you are an NASSP member, visit our Principals’ Legislative Action Center to send to your members of Congress the draft letter we created to express opposition to these four turnaround models: vocusgr.vocus.com.
Graduation Rate Expected to be Frequent Talking Point of Education Reform Conversations
Ever since President Obama announced that by 2020 he wants the U.S. to be first in the world in its percent of college graduates, much focus has been directed on the high school and college graduation rates, and this topic is expected to be a key point of conversation during ESEA reauthorization. The Administration’s March 2010 “blueprint” for ESEA reauthorization issued a call for all states to adopt state-developed standards in English/language arts and math to prepare students to be college- and career-ready upon graduation. The blueprint also called for assessments to gauge college-and career-readiness; comprehensive professional Development; and evidence-based instructional models.
In March, the America’s Promise Alliance will hold a summit in Washington, DC as part of its Grad Nation campaign, and will release new data at the summit. According to the Alliance, the purpose of the summit is to build momentum around the graduation initiative, and to share signs of progress. The Alliance plans to make the summit an annual event. A report released in November, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, documents an overall decrease in schools labeled “dropout factories,” or high schools where fewer than 60 percent of the students graduate. Go here to read the full report or executive summary of the Alliance’s Building a Grad Nation report: www.americaspromise.org.
Special Education Faces Challenges in Funding for 2011
Stakeholders predict 2011 will be a fiscally challenging year for special education. The perfect storm of the end to American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds — which directed $12.2 billion toward the IDEA during the last two years — and the continued bleeding of state and local revenue because of the economic downturn account for the challenge. To avoid legal challenges, experts urge school administrators to ensure they maintain services needed to fulfill FAPE. Additionally, not many administrators express hope that the 112th Congress will be able to take up IDEA reauthorization this year. Based on input from stakeholders, here
are several special education issues for 2011:
- Funding: This “funding cliff” from ARRA is unavoidable since districts must obligate all IDEA American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds by Sept. 30. The public policy director for National Center for Learning Disabilities predicted that many states will request that the U.S. Education Department waive their special ed maintenance- of-effort obligations in 2011. According to the IDEA, ED can grant these waivers because of “exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances[,] such as a natural disaster or a precipitous and unforeseen decline in the financial resources of the state.”
- ESEA reauthorization: Special ed stakeholders want to see specific language in a new bill: first, to retain language on including students with disabilities in the accountability system; and second, language addressing seclusion and restraint, bullying and harassment, and how IDEA and ESEA can fit together better.” Experts also anticipate that there will be strong efforts by special education stakeholders to incorporate universal design for learning strategies into ESEA.
- Special educator evaluations: Education officials are looking at how to fairly measure the performance of special educators who have a variety of responsibilities and unique teaching circumstances.
I encourage you all to see the documentary Race to Nowhere, which showcases the pressures on students of high-stakes testing, and questions the purposes of such intensive testing when the curriculum and assessments do not teach and measure what we truly need to teach and measure students to best prepare them for 21st century careers. Check out the film here (www.racetonowhere.com) and look up upcoming screenings in your area here: http://www.racetonowhere.com/screenings.
A survey released this week by the Center on Education Policy finds that very few school districts are familiar with the four controversial models to turn around low-performing schools, and as a result even fewer have implemented them. Over one third of school districts admit they are not familiar with the four models, and fewer than 12 percent of districts have implemented any of these models in their low-performing schools.
The Obama administration prescribes these four turnaround models for the bottom 5 percent of schools in each state. The four models, ranging from the least disruptive-“transformation”-to the most disruptive-school closure-all require replacing the principal as the first step, a strategy that NASSP not only opposes but also finds unfounded and illogical. The public seems to be on our side: a recent public opinion poll by Phi Delta Kappa International and the Gallup Organization shows that 54 percent of those surveyed prefer that principals and teachers in low-performing schools stay in place and receive additional help to improve. With such drastic action required in each of the four models, including replacement of the principal, it is not surprising that so few districts have implemented them, given a number of challenges and questions these models provoke.
In the May issue of NASSP’s monthly newsletter NewsLeader, NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi criticizes the logic of the four turnaround models. Naming them “misguided models,” Dr. Tirozzi states that “no research base exists for any of the models proposed.” Important questions abound in light of these four models. In the NewsLeader article, Dr. Tirozzi asks a number of these questions, including where we expect to find so many high-quality replacements of the staff and principals who must leave these schools; and if the principals and staff being replaced are supposedly incompetent, how the administration can justify their reassignment to another school.
In contrast to Secretary Duncan’s assertion that “something dramatic needs to be done” in the way of these four models, Dr. Tirozzi shares that true school turnaround is much more methodical, and involves “digging into data, crunching numbers, and discovering deficiencies; then identifying, implementing, and measuring the effect of appropriate interventions.” In addition, true school turnaround should not necessitate removal of a potentially dynamic principal, especially without a fair and thorough evaluation to determine that principal’s performance and their capability and willingness to improve.
The Center on Education Policy conducted their survey this spring and will administer another one next spring, when it expects that more districts will be implementing these four models upon receiving their share of the $3.5 billion Title I School Improvement Grant that some states and districts had not yet received this spring.
Regardless of how many more districts will implement these four models, NASSP will continue to view the models as an unfounded and therefore unwise path to true school turnaround that our nation’s most struggling schools so desperately need.
The nation’s 5,000 lowest-performing schools could have access to a new cadre of leaders under legislation introduced in June by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ). The Lead Act would establish a national school leadership academy and regional school leadership centers of excellence to train and support cohorts of principals and mentors to lead school turnaround efforts.
Under the bill, a nonprofit organization partnering with an institution of higher education would receive a single competitive grant to develop the national school leadership academy. The academy would then bring together turnaround experts to create a core body of knowledge regarding effective school leadership and develop an infrastructure for providing open source professional development materials to principals and other school leaders.
The Lead Act is unlikely to pass this year as a stand-alone bill, but efforts are underway to include the language in a larger bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
See the upcoming September issue of NewsLeader for more information.
A packed crowd of over 100 attendees listened to how two principals turned around their low-performing schools to make dramatic gains in student achievement. The forum, co-hosted by NASSP and the Alliance for Excellent Education featured two of the 2010 MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough Schools Principals.
NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi opened the forum by noting that both principals implemented certain strategies identified as effective in the NASSP Breaking Ranks framework for school improvement, including strong leadership, a rigorous curriculum, and strong collaboration among all staff.
Lavonne Smiley is principal of Tefft Middle School in Streamwood, IL, and oversees roughly 800 7th and 8th grade students, 47% of whom are Latino and 59% of whom are low-income. After specific encounters with angry or frustrated parents, teachers, and students, Smiley knew she needed to turn things around. Adopting the strategies outlined by Richard DuFour in On Common Ground: The Power of Professional Learning Communities, she brought a greater focus to curriculum, assessment, and interventions for struggling students. As a result, the number of students meeting and/or exceeding state test scores at Tefft jumped from 56% in 2002 to 91% in 2010. Smiley advised other educators to implement school reform with fidelity, continuously self-evaluate, and celebrate successes.
Tom O’Brien was principal of Brentwood High School in Brentwood, NY, for 15 years before his recent retirement. The high school serves a staggering 3,500 students in grades 10-12, 68% of whom are Hispanic and 62% of whom are low-income. Forty-one percent of the student population is also transient, posing a unique challenge. One irony that Mr. O’Brien pointed out was that as his school fell deeper into NCLB sanctions from 2002-2006 for not meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP), Brentwood’s test scores were improving steadily for most student subgroups. To turn things around, O’Brien created a collaborative School Improvement Team and staffed teacher coaches and more bilingual teachers to raise student achievement.
As a result, special education students’ test scores rose 52 percentage points in math from 2004 to 2008, while limited English proficient students’ test scores rose 89 percentage points in the same time period. Citing lessons learned, O’Brien emphasized focused leadership, data analysis, a strong improvement team, celebrating successes, and time as critical components to effectively turn around a school.
To discuss policy implications for school turnaround, senior staff from the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee also addressed the audience. Both commented specifically on the four turnaround models for school improvement, which all require replacing the principal as the first step for reform. They shared some details about their bosses’ proposals to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including surprising news that the House bill will not contain the four models, but will instead require a school instructional plan without prescribing one. They also want to identify ways to show improvement beyond AYP indicators, and these strategies will require intensive reliance on data. The Senate has not outright rejected the four school improvement models, but they are seeking the appropriate accountability to place on turnaround schools, and similarly will call on schools to present significant data to show improvement.
NASSP continues to oppose the four school turnaround models and believes that the success stories of these principals invalidate the requirement that the principal be replaced as the first step to school improvement. In contrast, capable, dedicated principals like Smiley and O’Brien prove they are a critical component to successful school turnarounds.
Witnesses and most members of the House Education and Labor Committee were in agreement that the four turnaround models proposed by the Obama administration do not offer enough flexibility for low-performing schools. The discussion took place during a full committee hearing on May 19, titled “Research and Best Practices on Successful School Turnaround.” This was the eighth in a series of hearings held by the committee to discuss reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
“What most of these schools need is a fresh start,” said Chairman George Miller (D-CA) in his opening remarks. “A fresh start doesn’t have to mean shutting down a school. Shutting down a school should be the last option after other systems of improvement have failed and when it’s clear that some schools are impervious to change. A fresh start doesn’t mean firing all the teachers and only hiring back an arbitrary number. You can find some of the best teachers in the worst performing schools, but they are stuck in a system that isn’t supporting them. And, if you fire all the teachers, you end up getting rid of the ones that are making a difference.”
Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), who represents a very rural district in northern Pennsylvania, noted that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to school improvement and also expressed his concern that the administration’s approach to school turnaround represents a “federal intrusion” outside of the ESEA reauthorization process.
Highlighting the importance of school leadership in turning around low-performing schools, the panel included two elementary school principals—Susan Bridges from A.G. Richardson Elementary School in Culpeper, VA, and David Silver from Think College Now Elementary School in Oakland, CA. Although the demographics of the students and communities they serve are very different, Bridges and Silver capitalized on common strategies: regular benchmarked assessments to provide teachers with real-time data, small group instruction, flexible scheduling to allow teachers time for collaboration, and community and parent involvement. They both also benefited from district support that provided them with more autonomy over hiring and budget decisions. Finally, they agreed that the most important role of the principal is “making decisions that are best for his or her students and staff.”
Explaining that there is little research on school turnaround, Jessica Johnson, a chief program officer with Learning Point Associates, shared recommendations based on the work her organization has performed with schools and districts implementing comprehensive school reform plans. Some of the successful components included strong building leadership, which she called “essential for success of a school turnaround,” an unwavering focus on instruction, a learning focused culture and climate with a disciplined approach to implementing school policies and practices, both academic and nonacademic supports for students and families are needed at intense levels, and a staff a community committed to change.
The committee also heard from John Simmons of Strategic Learning Initiatives (SLI), a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that has enjoyed remarkable success in turning around eight low-performing public elementary schools “without removing a principal, or a teacher at the beginning, without changing the curriculum or the textbooks, and without converting to a charter or contract school.” He urged Congress to embrace a model similar to SLI during ESEA reauthorization, which required school leadership teams to focus on Five Essential Supports:
- developing shared leadership;
- offering high-quality professional development for the teachers and administrators;
- ensuring instruction is rigorous and focused;
- engaging parents in learning state standards so they can better help their children with their homework;
- creating a culture of trust and collaboration among the teachers, administrators, parents, and students.
NASSP was disappointed that most of the witnesses shared examples of successful school turnaround at only the elementary level and submitted written testimony for the record. In our remarks, we highlight our suggestions for reforming the Transformation Model so it aligns more closely with the Breaking Ranks framework for school improvement. We also recommend that that a process for a comprehensive, annual evaluation of the school’s progress, principal, and teachers must be in place and monitored by the superintendent and school board. In addition, financial support for these school improvement efforts should be focused on providing low-performing schools with the external support and professional development needed to improve student performance, enhance school culture, and build leadership capacity.
In early December, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released the final requirements that states must use to award $3.546 billion in School Improvement Grants (SIG) to local school districts. Although the final notice governs the $3.546 billion appropriated in FY 2009 (including funds allocated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), ED may use these requirements for any year in which SIG funds are appropriated.
States are still required to identify three tiers of schools that are eligible for the funds, but “persistently lowest-achieving schools” are now defined as:
- any Title I school in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring that is among the lowest-achieving five percent of Title I schools in the state;
- any secondary school that is eligible for, but does not receive, Title I funds that is among the lowest five percent of secondary schools in the state; or is a high school that has had a graduation rate that is less than 60 percent.
States must give priority to those districts that demonstrate 1) the greatest need for the funds; and 2) the strongest commitment to ensuring that the funds are used to provide adequate resources to enable the lowest-achieving schools to raise substantially the achievement of their students. A district’s total subgrant may not be less than $50,000 or more than $500,000 per year for each participating school, but the district would have the flexibility to spend more than $500,000 so long as all schools identified in its application are served.
In its application to the state, a district must identify which Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III schools it commits to serve and how it will use school improvement funds to implement one of the following intervention models:
- Replace the principal and grant the new principal sufficient operational flexibility (including in staffing, calendars/time, and budgeting) to implement fully a comprehensive approach in order to substantially improve student achievement outcomes and increase high school graduation rates;
- Use locally adopted competencies to measure the effectiveness of staff who can work within the turnaround environment to meet the needs of students, screen all existing staff and rehire no more than 50 percent;
- Implement strategies that are designed to recruit, place, and retain staff with the skills necessary to meet the needs of the students in the turnaround school;
- Provide staff with ongoing, high-quality, job-embedded professional development that is aligned with the school’s comprehensive instructional program;
- Adopt a new governance structure;
- Use data to identify and implement an instructional program that is research-based and vertically aligned from one grade to the next as well as aligned with state academic standards;
- Promote the continuous use of student data to inform and differentiate instruction;
- Establish schedules and implement strategies that increase learning time; and
- Provide appropriate social-emotional and community-oriented services and supports for students.
- Convert a school or close and reopen a school under a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization (EMO) that has been selected through a rigorous review process.
- Close a school and enroll the students who attended the school in other schools in the district that are higher achieving.
- Develop and increase teacher and school leaders effectiveness by:
- replacing the principal who led the school prior to the commencement of the transformation model;
- using rigorous, transparent, and equitable evaluation systems for teachers and principals;
- identifying and rewarding school leaders, teachers, and other staff who have increased student achievement and high school graduation rates, and removing those who have not done so after ample opportunities have been provided for them to improve their professional practice;
- providing staff with ongoing, high-quality, job-embedded professional development that is aligned with the school’s comprehensive instructional program; and
- implementing strategies that are designed to recruit, place, and retain staff with the skills necessary to meet the needs of the students in the turnaround school.
- Implement comprehensive instructional reform strategies by:
- using data to identify and implement an instructional program that is research-based and vertically aligned from one grade to the next as well as aligned with state academic standards; and
- promoting the continuous use of student data to inform and differentiate instruction.
- Increase learning time and create community-oriented schools by:
- establishing schedules and strategies that provide increased learning time; and
- providing ongoing mechanisms for family and community engagement.
- Provide operational flexibility and sustained support by
- giving the school sufficient operational flexibility (such as staffing, calendars/time, and budgeting) to implement fully a comprehensive approach to substantially improve student achievement outcomes and increase high school graduation rates; and
- ensuring that the school receives ongoing, intensive technical assistance and related support from the district, the state, or a designated external lead partner organization (such as a school turnaround organization or an EMO.
In response to comments about principal and staff replacement in the Turnaround Model, the notice states that ED “believes that dramatic and wholesale changes in leadership, staffing, and governance…are an appropriate intervention option for creating an entirely new school culture that breaks a system of institutionalized failure.” ED officials acknowledge that it will be challenging to replace leadership in staff, especially in rural areas, but point out that ARRA includes the Race to the Top Fund and the Teacher Incentive Fund, which “are helping to create incentives and provide resources that can be used to attract and reward effective teachers and principals and improve strategies for recruitment, retention, and professional development.”
“We are very troubled that ED chose to make very few changes to the four school intervention models,” said NASSP Executive Director Gerald N. Tirozzi. “While this guidance is targeted to the lowest-performing schools in the state, it sends a message to all principals that they’re the only ones in the district that should be held accountable for student achievement. NASSP is very concerned what sort of impact this thinking will have on the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which could occur as early as next year.”
State applications are due to the Department of Education by February 8, 2010. For more information, go to: http://www.ed.gov/programs/sif/applicant.html.
In an effort to transform the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools nationwide, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released draft guidance on the School Improvement Grants (SIGs) authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the regular FY 2009 appropriations. The draft guidance was published in the Federal Register on August 26 and will be open for public comment through September 25.
“If we are to put an end to stubborn cycles of poverty and social failure, and put our country on track for long-term economic prosperity, we must address the needs of children who have long been ignored and marginalized in chronically low-achieving schools,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who made the announcement with Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) at Harley Harmon Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada. “States and school districts have an opportunity to put unprecedented resources toward reforms that would increase graduation rates, reduce dropout rates and improve teacher quality for all students, and particularly for children who most need good teaching in order to catch up.”
The proposed requirements would define the criteria states must use to award over $3.5 billion for SIGs to the districts with the lowest-achieving Title I schools that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds. Specifically, states would be required to identify three tiers of schools that are eligible for the funds:
- Tier I: the lowest-achieving 5% of Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring;
- Tier II: equally low-achieving secondary schools (both middle level and high schools) that are eligible for, but do not currently receive, Title I funds; and
- Tier III: the remaining Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, or restructuring that are not Tier I schools.
Districts desiring a grant would submit an application to their state identifying which Tier I and Tier II schools they would commit to serve, and states would be encouraged to give priority to those districts serving both Tier I and Tier II schools. Districts would then be required to use the funding for implementing one of four specific interventions in the identified schools:
- Turnaround Model, which includes replacing the principal and at least 50% of the school’s staff, adopting a new governance structure, and implementing a new and revised instructional program;
- Restart Model, which would require a district to close the school and reopen it under the management of a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an educational management organization;
- School Closure, which would require a district to close the school and enroll the students who attended the school in other, high-achieving schools within the district; or
- Transformation Model, which would require a district to address four specific areas critical to transforming the lowest-achieving schools:
- Developing teacher and school leader effectiveness;
- Implementing comprehensive instructional reform strategies;
- Extending learning time and creating community-oriented schools; and
- Providing operating flexibility and sustained support.
Grants would be awarded for up to three years and would be of sufficient size to implement reforms in each of the identified schools. Schools that choose to implement the Turnaround, Restart, or Transformation models would receive $500,000 per year. Schools receiving a grant would be required to report student achievement data to their district, and only those schools that are meeting, or are on track to meeting, the district’s student achievement goals may renew their grant beyond the first year.
After reviewing the public comments, ED will release the final guidance and an invitation for applications to states later this fall. For more information, go to: http://www.ed.gov/programs/sif/index.html.