The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices

The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices

With chapters written by leading researchers and practitioners actively engaged in the work, this Edited Volume examines the role of the state education agency in school turnaround efforts. An emphasis is placed on practical application of research and best practice related to the State Education Agency’s (SEA’s) critical leadership role in driving and supporting successful school turnaround efforts.

The Edited Volume is organized around the Center on School Turnaround’s four objectives, with sections devoted to each:

  1. Create a Pro-Turnaround Statutory and Regulatory Environment
  2. Administer and Manage Turnaround Efforts Effectively
  3. Provide Targeted and Timely Technical Assistance to Local Educational Agencies and Schools
  4. Advocate and Lead to Build Support for Local Turnaround Efforts

Chapters include: a) brief literature review, b) examples from SEAs (and/or concrete examples of proposed SEA practices), and c) action principles for the SEA. You can download the complete Edited Volume or individual sections and chapters below.

Edited Volume Survey

If you plan to download any portion of the Edited Volume, it would be appreciated if you also filled out a brief 4 question survey to tell the Center how you plan to use the information. To fill out a survey, please click HERE.

Complete Edited Volume

The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best PracticesThe State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices
Lauren Morando Rhim & Sam Redding: Editors

Edited Volume Sections and Chapters

by Bryan Hassel

One does not have to look past the table of contents of this volume to grasp the enormity of the task facing state leaders when it comes to school turnarounds. In recent years, states have taken center stage in the effort to address chronic low achievement in the nation’s schools. In part, this move has come from state leaders themselves, as governors, chief state school officers, and legislators have sought to accelerate change in these schools. Federal policy and funding streams have also elevated the state role in successive waves. From No Child Left Behind’s requirements around “restructuring” to the inclusion of low-achieving schools as one of four “assurance areas” in programs such as Race to the Top, federal policymakers have asked states to play an increasing role in addressing persistent school failure.

The book’s chapters delve into the state’s role in a wide range of specific topics related to school turnaround, and state leaders can find a great deal of guidance there on all of these specific challenges. In this foreword, the editors asked me to take a step back and look at an overarching state role…

Introduction to State Role
by Lauren Morando Rhim & Sam Redding

The Center on School Turnaround (CST) was created to provide technical assistance and identify, synthesize, and disseminate research-based practices and emerging promising practices for the purpose of increasing State Education Agency (SEA) capacity to support districts and schools to turn around their lowest performing schools and contribute to our collective knowledge of effective and sustainable school turnaround strategies. Four objectives that reflect the key levers SEA’s are using to drive, support, and sustain effective district and turnaround efforts guide the Center’s work:

  1. Advocating and building support for schools and districts as they work to turn around the lowest performing schools
  2. Creating a pro-turnaround statutory and regulatory environment
  3. Administering and managing turnaround efforts effectively
  4. Providing targeted and timely technical assistance to schools and districts

As the first major publication of the CST, this book is organized according to these four objectives which guide our work. The research base on effective school turnarounds, and specifically the critical role of the SEA, is evolving and arguably not fully developed. We have yet to witness large-scale research on the potential impact of individual SEAs or isolate specific actions to discern their quantifiable impact on targeted change efforts focused on changing both districts and schools. The chapter authors represent a portfolio of practitioners and scholars actively engaged in these efforts. Building on existing research, their experiences and observation of trends provide the emerging outlines of best practice and are therefore worth documenting and discussing.

CH 1. Evolution of Turnaround
by Sam Redding & Lauren Morando Rhim

School turnaround in the United States is a recent policy initiative that follows two decades of efforts to apply substantial interventions to sharply elevate the performance trajectory of persistently low-achieving schools. Unlike prior school improvement efforts that sought to implement change over three to five years, the focus of turnaround is rapid and dramatic improvement for the lowest performing schools—schools that had not responded to prior incremental efforts. School turnaround arrived fully at center stage in 2009 when newly appointed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the U.S. Education Department’s (USED) goal of turning around the nation’s lowest performing 5% of schools. The revamped School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, fueled by funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), provided states with criteria for identifying eligible schools and enabled states to establish competitions for LEAs to seek the SIG funding. At the same time, USED made turnaround a key component of its Race to the Top (RTTT) competition for states (and later for LEAs). USED also established a new Office of School Turnaround. The following chronology of national efforts to improve our schools provides background context that is essential to understanding the current strategies being promoted at both the federal and state level; the current approach to turning around the lowest performing schools is largely driven by the shortcomings of prior efforts.

  • Author(s): Sam Redding & Lauren Morando Rhim
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

Section A: Advocate and Lead

CH 2. Leveraging the Bully Pulpit: Optimizing the Role of the Chief State School Officer to Drive, Support, and Sustain School Turnaround
by Lauren Morando Rhim & Sam Redding

Chief state school officers—typically referred to as Commissioners, Superintendents, or Secretaries of Education—are responsible for leading their respective states’ public education systems. They work closely with their states’ legislatures, state boards of education, and governors to lead their state education agencies (SEA). As the leaders of the system, they have the bully pulpit from which they can articulate and drive their agenda. When it comes to school turnaround efforts, chiefs can use the position to catalyze, support, enable, and sustain school turnaround efforts. Given limited resources at their disposal, effectively optimizing the bully pulpit is a key tool in state chiefs’ toolboxes. This chapter explores the role of Chief State School Officer in today’s education policy climate and draws lessons from chiefs who have attempted, not always successfully, to leverage their position as a platform to drive their agenda to turn around the lowest performing schools. The chapter also outlines key action principles chiefs should consider to optimize their position to support focused turnaround efforts.

  • Author(s): Lauren Morando Rhim & Sam Redding
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 3. Engaging Local School Boards to Catalyze, Support, and Sustain School Turnaround
by Lauren Morando Rhim

Local school boards are the embodiment of our long-standing commitment to local control; elected community representatives have the pulse of the community and ensure that public schools reflect individual community’s values and priorities. Overseeing high quality schools that prepare students to succeed in the ever-evolving knowledge economy requires a relatively high level of collective sophistication. Local school boards must navigate federal and state policy to develop coherent local policy and support implementation; including turnaround efforts initiated under federal and state accountability systems. Yet, ongoing efforts to improve public education focus primarily on the role of teachers, principals, and superintendents, as well as state and federal policy makers. Missing from this debate is a robust discussion or examination of the role of local school boards…

This chapter highlights findings from a report produced by the Academic Development Institute (ADI) regarding the role of local school boards in school accountability and transformation efforts (Rhim, 2013). The report synthesized the contemporary research regarding the role of local school boards in targeted improvement efforts and explored emerging practice through interviews with key practitioners in districts engaged in such efforts. Building on the research findings, this chapter outlines strategies SEAs can leverage to drive and support meaningful engagement of local school boards in focused school turnaround efforts.

  • Author(s): Lauren Morando Rhim
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

Section B: Create a Pro-Turnaround Environment

CH 4. Successful School Turnarounds through Labor-Management Partnerships: The Role for State Education Agencies
by Ken Futernick & Adam Urbanski

…Relations between management and labor unions in the U.S. have historically been adversarial, which may help to explain why school turnaround efforts here have floundered. Many local and state teacher unions have actively resisted some of the turnaround policies required by programs like RTTT and SIG (e.g., replacing 50% or more of the teaching staff and using academic growth to evaluate teachers), and the absence of a collaborative environment has surely not promoted the “collective ownership of educational practice” that Fullan and others have observed outside the U.S.

The good news is that partnerships between labor and management are rapidly emerging in the U.S., and the impact of these partnerships appears promising, especially in districts that are engaged in school turnaround work. Our goal in this chapter is to acquaint State Education Agencies (SEAs) with key findings from case study research on the impact of labor–management collaboration on school policy and practice and to show how this collaboration is breaking down the fierce resistance to change that has hampered so many turnaround efforts. We also offer specific recommendations to SEAs based on the success several have had promoting a climate of trust, innovation, and collaboration among local stakeholders in their states.

  • Author(s): Ken Futernick & Adam Urbanski
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 5. Building Human Capital Pipelines: Examining the Role of the State Education Agency
by Dennis Woodruff & Cyrillene Clark

Two things are true about talent pipeline work: first, it is absolutely imperative to the sustained vitality of any organization; second, it is really hard work. Yet, investments in human capital pipelines save work in the long run, and there are immediate results that will keep the organization healthy and thriving. When the organization is a school district, state education agencies (SEAs) can facilitate this work, leading to vital, higher performing districts. Considering that the single most significant resource in education is its people, it is essential to get the right people in the right jobs, doing the right things.

…Based on a review of the relevant literature and our experience working directly with underperforming schools in 14 states striving to be more intentional about their talent management strategies over the last three years, in this chapter we outline the components of a robust talent pipeline and identify strategies SEAs can implement to help districts develop and sustain effective pipelines. Lastly, we identify specific action principles, resources, and tools that will be valuable to SEAs striving to support a district’s turnaround efforts.

  • Author(s): Dennis Woodruff & Cyrillene Clark
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 6. The State’s Role in Supporting Data Use to Drive School Turnaround
by Daniel Player, Michael Kight, & William Robinson

The intensive care unit (ICU) of a hospital cares for patients whose medical conditions place them in serious and immediate danger and therefore are in critical need of specialized medical attention and constant support. Upon arrival, each patient is given an individualized plan for treatments and outcomes and begins a regimen of constant monitoring to measure their progress against those plans. Every patient is connected to several automatic sensors monitoring their vital signs and raising immediate warnings if necessary…

…Every public school district1 in the United States has at least some students, and often entire schools, in need of intensive educational care. While it is difficult to imagine a medical ICU that does not closely monitor its patients, it is unfortunately common for a school, district, and state to let close monitoring and analysis of its struggling students, teachers, schools, or districts take a back seat to the many other responsibilities they have. However, if they hope to see improvement, states must expect districts to conduct themselves as educational ICUs and make individual student monitoring, data analysis, and data-driven action a priority in an “ongoing cycle of instructional improvement” (Hamilton et al., 2009, p. 10)…

…In this chapter, we make the case that monitoring and data use is a critical foundation of any school turnaround. We offer a perspective on the possibilities for comprehensive data use at all levels and share some practical advice for states and districts on how to use data to improve decisions in a variety of contexts. We draw on the expertise gleaned from the experiences of the University of Virginia’s Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE)2 in our work with over 200 schools in dozens of school districts across the country as well as the best practices documented in the evolving literature on effective school turnarounds (Calkins, Guenthen, Belfiore, & Lash, 2007; Duke, n.d.; Hassel & Hassel, 2008; Herman et al., 2008; Player & Katz, 2013; Steiner, Kowal, Hassel, & Hassel, 2009)

  • Author(s): Daniel Player, Michael Kight, & William Robinson; University of Virginia, Partnership for Leaders in Education
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

Section C: Administer and Manage State Turnaround

CH 7. The State of the State: New SEA Structures for a New Approach to Turnaround
by Justin Cohen and Alison Segal

…In order to provide optimal support for turnaround schools, an SEA must intentionally organize to support those schools’ needs. In addition, despite the fact that federal accountability reforms have driven extraordinary focus on the school and classroom levels, SEAs must also carefully consider the role—or lack of a role—of the district (LEA) in school turnaround.

This chapter examines existing literature on SEA organizations and how those organizations provide support for schools and districts. While there are a range of approaches and organizational structures, we pay particular attention to shifting SEA practices and culture to better support districts, attending to an SEA’s reorganization, and the general range of SEA structures and activities implemented to support turnaround.

  • Author(s): Justin Cohen & Alison Segal; Mass Insight Education
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 8. State Approaches to Turnaround in ESEA Flexibility Plans
by Carole Perlman & Susan Hanes

…In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education ( USDE) allowed each SEA the option to request flexibility on behalf of itself, its LEAs, and schools from certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive state-developed plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.1 USDE chose the flexibility process to address problems with NCLB because the expected reauthorization of ESEA was stalled in Congress, the number of schools not meeting AYP was growing astronomically, and NCLB’s requirements, such as the provision of supplemental educational services was viewed by many states as an unproductive use of funds…

…States have designed their accountability and support systems in a variety of ways that reflect their diverse circumstances. The remainder of this chapter describes how several states addressed the turnaround process in their ESEA Flexibility Requests. For readers seeking additional information, a link to each state’s approved flexibility request is given.

  • Author(s): Carole Perlman & Susan Hanes
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 9. Leveraging Technology to Accelerate School Turnaround
by Janet S. Twyman

Tremendous excitement and lofty expectations surround the use of technology in schools and its promise of increasing student achievement. As part of a comprehensive initiative to advance the transformation of American education, the Obama administration and the Department of Education are encouraging a culture of learning powered by technology (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, 2010). The use of technology is now as indelibly linked to the thought of schooling as the one-room schoolhouse of a century ago (i.e., the brick-and-mortar schoolhouse that online education could conceivably replace). When thinking about school turnaround in the 21st century, it is not a question of whether turnaround effort should include technology, but how.

…This chapter will focus on how technology—assuming adequate leadership, resources, and supports—can accelerate improved student outcomes in an SEA-driven school improvement or school turnaround endeavor. The use of technology across seven areas (i.e., learning and instruction, motivation, access, data, teacher training, systems and processes, and learning analytics) is described and supported by examples of research or exemplary programs.

  • Author(s): Janet S. Twyman
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 10. Evaluating the State Turnaround Strategy
by Daniel Aladjem

…Wholey, Hatry, and Newcomer provide a concise introduction to all aspects of evaluation. As such, it is an invaluable resource for every evaluation effort. Herman, Aladjem, and Walters, on the other hand, provide specific examples of how a state might think about evaluation of federally- unded School Improvement Grants (SIG). This chapter takes a different approach. Aside from avoiding replicating prior work, this chapter seeks to address a different aspect of evaluation. Rather than explore how to evaluate SIG efforts per se, this chapter will provide examples of how states evaluate their own work to implement SIG. The object of evaluation for this chapter is not the schools, teachers, or students who ultimately benefit from SIG, but the work of states themselves. The central questions motivating this chapter are: “How can states be reflective about their own practice?” and “What lessons can states learn from other states?”

This chapter consists of three main sections. The first section will review briefly the literature on evaluating SIG and provide a simple conceptual framework for this chapter. Next, the heart of the chapter will provide examples from several states of how they have thought about their own work supporting SIG implementation and outcomes and present lessons learned from those efforts. This section is organized topically, rather than by state, as what individual states learned is less important than the patterns of their lessons that might be generalized to benefit all states. Finally, a brief summary precedes a few pointed action principals for states.

  • Author(s): Daniel Aladjem; Policy Studies Associates, Inc.
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

Section D: Provide Technical Assistance To LEAs and Schools

CH 11. Engaging State Intermediate Agencies to Support School Turnaround
by Eileen Reed and Sally Partridge

The impact of increased accountability in public education is not limited to classroom teachers, principals, and district staff. The responsibility of state education agencies (SEAs) to directly support school turnaround has expanded under No Child Left Behind, while at the same time, budget cuts and consequent staff reductions have decreased the resources available for SEAs to engage in direct technical assistance to districts and schools. In light of these contextual realities, SEAs must acknowledge the increased demands on their internal capacity and explore possible collaboration with external entities to build local capacity to support school turnaround…

…This chapter focuses on the role of ESAs to influence the interpretation and implementation of policies and practices to turn around low-performing schools and districts. We first present a brief review of the literature regarding the role and potential of ESAs and then describe a successful partnership between an SEA, an ESA, local school districts, and an external provider as an example of what is possible when the SEA and an ESA engage in creative collaboration to address the needs of a state’s lowest performing schools. We conclude the chapter with a set of recommended action principles we propose will help SEAs effectively leverage ESAs to support their district and school turnaround priorities.

  • Author(s): Eileen Reed & Sally Partridge; Texas Education Agency
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 12. Navigating the Market: How SEAs Help Districts Develop Productive Relationships with External Providers
by Julie Corbett

Despite being perceived to be wholly public entities, schools, districts, and states have long utilized private companies to provide specific educational, capital, and operational services (e.g., construction, curriculum development, after-school programs, food services, or entire school management; Hill, 1997). In particular, external partners have joined forces with school districts in the effort to turn around persistently low-achieving schools for decades. Generations of school improvement efforts have utilized external partners to provide a variety of supports, such as instructional strategies, social and emotional health services, and tutoring services. The engagement of external partners, for the purpose of turning around schools underwent a radical shift in 2010 with the advent of the revised federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. The revamped SIG program encourages the use of external partners in a different and more comprehensive way…

  • Author(s): Julie Corbett
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 13. Turnaround Communities of Practice: Addressing the Urgency
by Kelly Stuart, Julie Duffield, and Sylvie Hale

Communities of Practice (CoPs) can be an important component of a state’s turnaround-focused technical assistance efforts through peer-to-peer, face-to-face, and online collaborative activities within states, districts, and schools. CoPs play a vital role in responding to pressing, constantly evolving needs while building capacity and accelerating knowledge critical to the turnaround effort. Using CoPs provides states with a technical assistance approach to seek out solutions to the complex issues of school turnaround and gain support from stakeholders in implementing those solutions. When well implemented across state and within state, CoPs are positioned to serve as an important means to spread knowledge and expertise, build networks, develop collaborative solutions, and, ultimately, transform practice.

This chapter highlights the use of CoPs by states to collaborate with multiple stakeholders to strengthen technical assistance, curate best practices, and support the implementation of these practices within local district and school contexts. Below we review the salient literature on CoPs, describe a conceptual framework for SEAs to establish and support CoPs, provide examples, and offer key principles for action. Coupled, and perhaps integrated, with existing state systems of support, CoPs have the potential to transform how states support their turnaround LEAs by increasing the SEA’s capacity to deliver technical assistance, disseminate key resources, develop networks, and foster collaborative relationships.

  • Author(s): Kelly Stuart, Julie Duffield, & Sylvie Hale with contributions by Anu Advani and Libby Rognier
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 14. Fostering Success for English Learners in Turnaround Schools: What State Education Agencies Need to Know and Be Able to Do
by Robert Linquanti

English learners (ELs) constitute one of the fastest growing K–12 public school student populations in the United States. Over the past 12 years, the EL population has grown by two-thirds to over 5 million students, and in several states, particularly in the Southeast and Midwest, it has grown by several hundred percent (NCELA, 2010). The broader category of language minority students (ages 5–17)—those from homes where a language other than or in addition to English is spoken—now totals nearly 12 million (Migration Policy Institute [MPI], 2011). This population is expected to grow to almost half the total U.S. K-12 public school population by the middle of this century.

…This chapter lays out a framework of fundamental considerations with respect to English learners in order to foster greater understanding of their strengths and needs; examines the opportunities and risks for improving EL instruction and learning in the current context of next-generation standards and assessments, as well as of ESEA flexibility and Race to the Top Program requirements; and provides examples of innovative SEA practices for supporting local district and school improvement. The chapter concludes by providing key principles for SEA action with respect to this population in turnaround schools.

  • Author(s): Robert Linquanti; WestEd
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 15. Building Rural District Capacity for Turnaround
by Sam Redding & Herbert J. Walberg

Rural schools generally hold their own compared with urban and suburban schools when it comes to student achievement. But, when a rural school persistently underachieves, turning it around presents challenges unlike those in more populated settings. Especially, rural schools tend to be situated within small, rural districts with lean central office staff, geographic separation from external resources, and limited capacity for the heavy lifting of school turnaround.

The Center on School Turnaround (CST) administered a questionnaire on what senior State Education Agency (SEA) staff from 13 states observed about implementation of turnaround strategies in rural SEAs.1 An analysis of the questionnaire responses and the literature on rural schools shows that many of the problems rural educators face overlap considerably with those of urban and suburban educators, but some of their problems are distinctive and even unique. This chapter considers the strengths and unique challenges of rural local education agencies (LEAs) and schools and focuses on solutions for those identified to be turned around. The recommendations for the SEA address rural LEAs’ perceived disadvantages and leverage the advantages of rural settings.

  • Author(s): Sam Redding & Herbert J. Walberg
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 16. Big Sky Hope: How Montana’s SEA Supports Turnaround in American Indian Schools
by Denise Juneau, Mandy Smoker Broaddus, and Deborah Halliday

…Aware that most of the struggling schools were located on or adjacent to the seven Indian reservations in Montana, Juneau, a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes, launched “Montana Schools of Promise” to turn these schools around…

The schools identified for attention through Montana Schools of Promise shared a common set of characteristics: all were very small and very rural—two of the schools’ districts lacked cell phone service and several struggled with internet connectivity—and all were located on an Indian reservation. School management was often chaotic, and staff turnover resulted in inconsistent and dysfunctional work environments. Graduation and attendance rates were the lowest in the state, and students suffered from an entrenched culture of low achievement and low expectations. As with many other reservation communities, local families struggle with high rates of unemployment, substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicide. However, these communities also presented unique opportunities, strengths, and resiliency factors that could be leveraged for positive turnaround efforts.

  • Author(s): Denise Juneau, Mandy Smoker Broaddus, and Deborah Halliday; Montana Department of Education
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

CH 17. Building Leadership Capacity in Native American Schools: The Principal Leadership Academy
by Pam Sheley

On a warm fall day in November 2012, 30 principals and 8 mentors gathered for a three-day Basic Leadership Training in Albuquerque to launch the Principal Leadership Academy (PLA), a collaboration between the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and Academic Development Institute (ADI). The PLA is a 9-month long training and support initiative for principals. The PLA’s mission is to improve the performance of schools by building principals’ skills and practices. The first cohort was made up of principals working in American Indian schools which are BIE operated. The BIE “oversees a total of 183 elementary, secondary, residential and peripheral dormitories across 23 states. 126 schools are tribally controlled under P.L. 93-638 Indian Self Determination Contracts or P. L. 100-297 Tribally Controlled Grant Schools Act. 57 schools are operated by the Bureau of Indian Education” (Bureau of Indian Education website). The first cohort only included principals in BIE operated schools. The principals in the BIE cohort all serve predominantly American Indian students.

The BIE cohort included high school, elementary, and middle school principals. The schools in the cohort included dormitory as well as day schools. There were schools in heavily populated areas as well as a school located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. School enrollment ranged from 110 students to 400 students. While all these factors are relevant, the bottom line—and the premise of PLA—is the same: All schools need good leadership, and that leadership starts with the principal…

  • Author(s): Pam Sheley
  • Download: Complete Chapter (PDF)
  • References: Please download the chapter to view the references.

Authors’ Biographies

Authors’ Biographies