December 20, 2016
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has changed the game on school turnaround. Gone are No Child Left Behind’s prescriptive school improvement models; now, states have unprecedented discretion to create turnaround plans appropriate to their contexts. Under ESSA, states have far more say on which low-performing schools will receive turnaround interventions, what interventions those schools will implement, and how resources will flow to those schools.
“7 Tenets for Sustainable School Turnaround,” released this fall by the Center for American Progress and Education Resource Strategies, describes high-level principles for turnaround strategy, including the need for stakeholder engagement and tiers of intervention. However, it is absolutely crucial that state leaders align the choices they make regarding their turnaround strategy with their theory of student success and specific context. Turnaround plans aren’t separate from the overall work a state does to improve education; they ought to complement efforts that states already undertake.
An integrated strategy requires that state leaders think carefully about considerations in three areas that their new discretion offers them:
To make these decisions, states must develop an evidence base that helps them determine where their high-need districts stand and what strategy is most appropriate.
Tucked within ESSA is a provision that states can use to gain this insight: the requirement that states periodically conduct resource reviews of districts with a significant share of low-performing schools. States should seize the opportunity of this mandate by conducting comprehensive studies that examine on-the-ground conditions: what opportunities do schools and districts have to allocate their people, time, and money in ways that support system-wide excellence and equity? State leaders can connect resource-use patterns to a strategic vision for redesigning systems and schools.
States will be primed to create sustainable and effective improvement plans if they connect their strategic ambitions to the facts on resource allocation in districts across the state. ESSA offers state leaders two key tools for their kit: the freedom to make ambitious and appropriate school turnaround strategies, and a process of inquiry that, if used well, will lead to coherent, justified decisions. States must use them both.