Fifty years after the Coleman Report highlighted vast achievement gaps between students from low-income and more affluent communities, those gaps remain nearly as large as when Coleman and his team first published their findings. Even our best attempts at improving student outcomes through increased academic rigor have not yielded results at scale, particularly for students with unmet social, emotional, and physical needs. With child poverty rates trending up (a majority of the nation’s public school students now come from low-income families) and achievement gaps persisting, it’s clearly time to broaden our focus and adopt a more comprehensive approach to addressing the essential needs of our students.
The new Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA), with its focus on a well-rounded education, provides an opportunity to significantly alter the way we think about and deliver a wide range of the supports and services—afterschool programs, health and mental health services, mentoring, etc.—that research shows are critical to educational success and to closing opportunity gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers. ESSA’s focus on a more comprehensive approach is further buttressed by the inclusion of a non-academic indicator as part of state accountability systems.
What if states and districts took this opportunity to make every Title I school a community school?
Community school strategies, and their focus on bring a diverse set of supports and services into schools to improve educational outcomes, are well aligned with the new law’s vision for a well-rounded education. Making all Title I schools community schools would ensure that we are translating this vision into action for our students most in need of supports. And there is a growing base of research and practice related to community schools to build upon; lessons from states, districts and cities where community schools are gaining traction and showing results can guide this strategy.
While making good on the intent of the law, this approach would also help to satisfy several of its requirements, including conducting a needs assessment, something that community schools regularly do; strengthening partnerships with other public and private organizations to bring in more resources and expand opportunities, another feature of community schools; and engaging families, a community schools’ cornerstone.
So how might this work?
Language related to “a well-rounded education” is woven throughout the new legislation and appears in all of the major Title programs. ESSA also provides many options for using federal funding to support community schools. New flexibility in Title I from the recapture of SIG resources; the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant; and Title IV (Safe and Healthy Students Programs) can all contribute to a community school strategy and some of its associated services. State Education Agencies can also help to smooth the way with other state agencies—health, mental health, juvenile justice—to bring more programs, services and opportunities to schools, promoting a richer set of educational experiences and better outcomes for more students.
This is not to suggest that making every Title I school a community school would be an easy undertaking or a quick fix. According the National Center for Education Statistics, in school year 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), there were just under 49,000 Title I schools. This represents about half of the almost 99,000 public school across the country. While it is unclear exactly how many community schools currently exist (NCES does not collect this data), a 2014 Child Trends study reported that there were less than 3,000 schools with programs that provide integrated student supports. This leaves more than 45,000 Title I schools where implementing a community schools model or approach would be new.
Additionally, if the education community has learned anything from recent reform experiences, it is that major changes—whether implementing a turnaround model or a new teacher evaluation system—require buy-in from those who will be involved in or affected by the change. The same holds true for becoming a community school; school leaders and staff, students, families and the community must embrace the shift. In addition to the need to garner stakeholder support, we have also learned that real reform takes planning, resources, time, patience, supports, and the adoption of a continuous improvement process that allows the reform to grow and improve as it adjusts to the needs and demands of particular communities.
With all of this in mind, I suggest a strategy that starts by engaging those districts and schools that are interested in making their Title I schools community schools and building from there. More specifically, states and districts could create new processes to identify districts and schools that will receive support to adopt a community schools’ strategy and hold them accountable for doing so by collecting a specified set of data and assessing progress. The districts could then build implementation plans that take full advantage of the new law and will sustain the strategy long into the future. This also creates opportunities to engage community partners—another requirement of the new law. States could further promote this process by developing frameworks that districts could adopt for establishing community schools and providing technical support, drawing from resources and lessons from community school pioneers like those in Tulsa, New York City and Oakland to name a few. Support organizations like the Coalition for Community Schools and the National Center for Community Schools and program models like Communities in Schools and Say Yes to Education can also inform this process.
From where I stand, when it comes to providing students with the range of supports and services that we know are necessary for success, the stars have just aligned. With ESSA we have the ability to make every Title I school a community school and make some real progress on closing opportunity and achievement gaps across the country. At C&J, we welcome the opportunity to support any state or district that is willing to take the leap.
The Keys to Achieving Success in School and District Transformation, Part 1
What does it really take to turn around a struggling school or school district?
More than 15 years ago, Michael Fullan wrote in Phi Delta Kappan that “the main reason for the failure of these reforms to go to scale and to endure is that we have failed to understand that both local school development and the quality of the surrounding infrastructure are critical for lasting success.” In his The Three Stories of School Reform, Fullan contends that the most significant enemies of large-scale reform are overload and extreme fragmentation. He argues for coherence and maintains that the work of reform must occur both inside and outside the system—from the schoolhouse to the state house.
As a former school superintendent, I have always found it puzzling that so many push for school-level reforms without a parallel focus on the central office, state department of education and surrounding community. It’s no surprise that under these circumstances the money and effort allocated to reform have not yielded satisfactory results. A look at the schools under review in any state or district shows a repeated cycle of failure and a depressing trail of dollars spent.
The work of transformation is neither simple nor easy. It is no small task to educate ALL of the children in our nation’s schools. While we have experienced successes, our children still have unequal access to quality education across communities. Why? Because partial reforms have led to partial progress.
The good news is that a number of states and districts are implementing or considering a much more cogent strategy of school improvement. Say Yes to Education (SYTE), for example, posits that we are often focusing on the wrong levers and has demonstrated that the city or county is the unit of change. SYTE leverages a complex network of schools, higher education, governmental systems, service providers, and community organizations to create a comprehensive strategy—with a unique data approach—to improve student educational outcomes and post-secondary success. Through our work advising SYTE and providing strategic support to its districts, we have been fortunate to witness firsthand the success of this approach.
At the state level, Massachusetts has a bold and well-thought-out plan for district and school turnaround. In 2014, the Massachusetts Department of Education commissioned the Institute for Strategic Leadership and Learning to conduct a three-year analysis of school and district practices, systems, and policies and use of resources contributing to successful turnaround efforts. The levers identified reinforce the argument that the effort must be comprehensive and coherent. They include:
- Employing strategic human capital;
- Getting the right leaders and teachers in place;
- Organizing the district for successful turnaround;
- Organizing district offices, policies, and resources to support, monitor, and expand turnaround efforts;
- Targeting resources on instruction and professional practice; and
- Understanding how districts and schools used funding to drive turnaround efforts.
Though specific approaches vary, no matter how it is sliced, reforms, strategies and initiatives must be integrated into a system-wide improvement strategy to avoid the Frankenstein’s Monster syndrome—parts may look ok but the whole is incoherent, producing inconsistent results. School transformation doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Engaging a broad array of partners in the work is essential to ensuring the success of any school or district transformation effort.
Opportunity in ESSA
With the latest iteration of ESEA, state and local education agencies will see significant autonomy and decision-making authority returned to them. School Improvement Grants in their current form are ended and states are being given the power to redefine school success. This provides a tremendous new opportunity for a coherent, systemic approach to reform and lift many systems and schools out of their current underperformance.
This post is the first in a three-part series examining the key components of successful school and district transformation.
On January 8th, the nation celebrated two major anniversaries, each of which has significantly shaped national education policy. In 1964, in his first State of the Union address, delivered less than two months after the Kennedy assassination, President Lyndon Johnson declared a national War on Poverty. Johnson’s efforts led to him signing the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act at a ceremony at a rural school in Stonewall, Texas with his first teacher Mrs. Katherine Deadrich Loney sitting at his side. On January 8th in 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act at a school in Hamilton, Ohio with a group of children and Congressional leaders standing beside him.
As we enter 2014, much remains to be done to achieve the goals of both initiatives. Poverty still prevails as a major factor in determining which children will succeed. We are also far from closing the achievement gaps between children of different races and income levels and determining how to create fair and effective accountability programs.
This year is an election year for 36 governors, nearly all state legislatures, 34 senators, and all 435 House members. While in past years such a big election year might have signaled that momentum was on the side of positive change, that will likely not be the case in 2014. At the federal level, a divided Congress – with one house engaged in open battle with the president and a federal budget that will almost certainly pinch program funding—will produce few advances. ESEA/NCLB is unlikely to be reauthorized. There will be a major, but probably unsuccessful, effort to enact a federal Pre-K program. Only laws such as Perkins and the Education Sciences Research Act may be passed, as they are far less controversial.
At the state level, we will likely see a significant push for Pre-K programs, even in the absence of substantial federal funding. Most controversial will be the efforts in a number of states to halt implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and to adopt or reject the aligned assessments being developed by two federally funded consortia.
Of great concern is the possibility that it will be 2017, after the next presidential inauguration, before major action is taken at the federal level. In states, much will depend on whether groups representing parents and students are able to mobilize and prevail at the ballot box over those who oppose change. The need for such change is great as shown by recent results from PISA, NAEP, and state assessments.
Leaders in both states and districts can best weather the year by focusing time, resources, and attention on closing achievement gaps, raising the bar for everyone, and making maximum use of data and information in implementing proven effective programs and practices. Data from measures like PISA and NAEP do matter if we are to assure that our children and grandchildren achieve their life’s goals in this century. Only then will the goals established on January 8th in1964 and in 2002 be achieved.
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This is the time that people, and especially school teachers and children, talk about how they spent their summer vacation. Not wanting to break tradition, I’ll share some of my summer.
The free time that I did have was spent in working on a new edition of Political Education, my book on federal education policy, as I have a contract for a new edition to be published next year.
When I started the project, I had hoped to include a nice neat chapter that summarized passage of an ESEA reauthorization bill. Boy, was that optimistic! While the House passed a bill in July and the Senate HELP committee has finalized their version, they are miles apart in philosophy and design. Indeed, with the next round of Congressional elections but 14 months away and Washington beset with decisions about everything from the national debt ceiling to agency budgets, sequestration, and various military conflicts across the globe, to say nothing of privacy and national security, it is nearly impossible to see how it gets done in this, the 113th Congress.