Using flexibility to design new school interventions

Using flexibility to design new school interventions

(Calif.) Two years ago, House Republicans insisted that states be given more control over the nation’s primary program for turning around persistently under-performing schools –this week, California officials will be taking advantage of that option.

The School Improvement Grant has until now offered only four models for intervention, none of which, studies show, have been too successful.

Driven by a growing desire to return more educational decisions to the state and local level, Congressional leaders impressed on the Obama administration during budget talks last fall to add a fifth option, which states could design and implement themselves.

Under a plan set for consideration by the California State Board of Education at its regular September meeting, stakeholders would be brought into the discussion about the specifics of the new intervention. Already the California Department of Education has engaged WestEd and the American Institute for Research to help on the project.

The other major change Congress agreed to make is the authorization for schools to use the grant money on improving early learning programs – something California is also set to pursue.

The SIG program, which dates back to the Bush administration, targets the roughly 1,200 schools nationwide that struggle year after year to improve performance. The U.S. Department of Education defines eligibility as any school that receives Title I money and has not made adequate yearly progress for at least two years, or is in the state’s lowest quintile of performance based on proficiency rates.

While important, the federal intervention program had been only modestly funded until 2009 when Obama pressed $3 billion into the SIG as part of the economic recovery package and has since supported it with about $2 billion more.

But the program has produced only mixed results. Following their own study of the SIG, federal officials reported earlier this year that about 80 percent of states had made some improvements with their worst performing schools but that almost 60 percent said they still struggled.

Educators have complained that the program was too rigid in offering just four interventions that included such strategies as replacing the school principal and much of the school staff; reorganizing as a charter; or simply closing the site.

The new option, which must be approved the Secretary of Education, requires a “whole-school” approach that encompasses efforts to:

  • improve student academic achievement or attainment
  • be implemented for all students in a school.

The state-designed approach must also address each of the following in a comprehensive manner:

  • School leadership
  • Teaching and learning in at least one full academic content area (including professional learning for educators)
  • Student non-academic support
  • Family and community engagement

To be eligible to use SIG funds for early learning, local educational agencies must already be engaged in:

  • Offering full-day kindergarten
  • Establishing or expanding a high-quality preschool program as defined in the SIG final requirements.

Federal requirements also call for:

  • Provide educators, including preschool teachers, with time for joint planning across grades to facilitate effective teaching and learning and positive teacher-student interactions.
  • Replace the principal who led the school prior to commencement of the Early Learning Model.
  • Implement rigorous, transparent, and equitable evaluation and support systems for teachers and principals, designed and developed with teacher and principal involvement that meet the requirements described in Section I.A.2(d)(1)(A)(ii) of the SIG final requirements.
  • Use the teacher and principal evaluation and support system described in Section I.A.2(d)(1)(A)(ii) of the SIG final requirements under the Transformation Model to identify and reward school leaders, teachers, and other staff who, in implementing this model, have increased student achievement and identify and remove those who, after ample opportunities have been provided for them to improve their professional practice, have not done so.
  • Implement such strategies as financial incentives, increased opportunities for promotion and career growth, and more flexible work conditions that are designed to recruit, place, and retain staff with the skills necessary to meet the needs of students in the school, taking into consideration the results from the teacher and principal evaluation and support system described in Section I.A.2(d)(1)(A)(ii) of the SIG final requirements, if applicable.
  • Use data to identify and implement an instructional program that:

Is research-based, developmentally appropriate, and vertically aligned from one grade to the next as well as aligned with State early learning and development standards and State academic standards.

In the early grades, promotes the full range of academic content across domains of development, including math and science, language and literacy, socio-emotional skills, self-regulation, and executive functions.

Promote the continuous use of student data (such as from formative, interim, and summative assessments) to inform and differentiate instruction in order to meet the educational and developmental needs of individual students.

Provide staff with ongoing, high-quality, job-embedded professional development such as coaching and mentoring (e.g., regarding subject-specific pedagogy, instruction that reflects a deeper understanding of the community served by the school, or differentiated instruction) that is aligned with the school’s comprehensive instructional program and designed with school staff to ensure they are equipped to facilitate effective teaching and learning and have the capacity to successfully implement school reform strategies.

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