School Turnaround

To ensure the success of all students, improving low-performing schools is critically important. The NWCC provides technical assistance to build Northwest states’ capacity to support their districts and schools in turning around their lowest performing schools.

The following resources related to this priority area have been compiled by NWCC staff.

The Center on School Turnaround

The goal of the Center on School Turnaround is to provide technical assistance and identify, synthesize, and disseminate research-based practices and emerging promising practices that will lead to SEAs’ increased capacity to support districts in turning around their lowest-performing schools.

Overcoming the Challenges of School Improvement Through a Research-Based, Collaborative Approach

Many continuous improvement and school turnaround models neglect the all-important work of creating the right systemic conditions for change. This paper describes Education Northwest’s Success Now! ™ approach in which coaches guide school leaders in selecting and addressing a small number of conditions likely to hinder their progress. Schools are encouraged to focus on just two or three manageable actions during iterative change cycles that build on a succession of quick wins. Used successfully in a number of rural school districts, this model may be of special interest to state and local education leaders seeking sustainable approaches to school improvement.

Better Evidence, Better Choices, Better Schools

This report clarifies the definition of “evidence-based” that ESSA uses, distinguishing it from the “scientifically based research” provisions of NCLB and providing a framework for how state education agencies can maximize collaborative efforts to implement evidence-based school improvement practices.

Briefly, the evidence-based approach encourages state and district leaders to consider multiple tiers of evidence and examine the strength of the evidence in making decisions. On the other hand, scientifically based research sets a very specific, narrow standard for acceptable evidence. These two terms will be examined in greater detail later in the report.

Summary of Research on the Association Between State Interventions in Chronically Low-Performing Schools and Student Achievement

This report summarizes the research on the association between state interventions in chronically low-performing schools and student achievement. Most of the research focused on one type of state intervention: working with a turnaround partner. Few studies were identified that examined other types of interventions, such as school closure, charter conversion, and school redesign. Most studies were descriptive, which limits the conclusions that can be drawn about the effectiveness of the interventions. Results of studies of turnaround partner interventions were mixed and suggested that student achievement was more likely to improve when particular factors—such as strong leadership, use of data to guide instruction, and a positive school culture characterized by trust and increased expectations for students—were in place in schools.

State Capacity to Support School Turnaround

The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) released a brief documenting states' capacity to support school turnaround as of spring 2012 and spring 2013. It examines capacity issues for all states and for those that reported both prioritizing turnaround and having significant gaps in expertise to support it.

State Policies for Intervening in Chronically Low-Performing Schools: A 50-State Scan

Recent federal initiatives such as School Improvement Grants and Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility emphasize the role of state education agencies (SEAs) in improving our nation’s lowest performing schools. However, the actions that SEAs can take are limited by the policies in place in their states. This report provides a summary of current policies in all 50 states related to state interventions with chronically underperforming schools. Laws and regulations were classified into six broad categories of interventions related to: school improvement plans, staffing, closing a school, financial incentives or interventions, the day-to-day operation of the school, and the entity that governs or operates a school. State policies show a great deal of consistency in approaches to supporting the lowest-performing schools, perhaps because many of the interventions align closely with federal guidance for improving chronically low-performing schools. Despite strong alignment of state policies with federal guidance, state policies vary in terms of the breadth of interventions they allow states to implement. About a third of states have policies related to all six categories of interventions. Seven states have policies allowing interventions falling into only two or three of the six categories. State policies also vary in the specific interventions allowed within each category. This report can help state education leaders and policymakers learn how other states are approaching the challenge of turning around their lowest-performing schools, which can facilitate communication among states considering similar approaches.

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