By Laura Jimenez, Director, Standards and Accountability, Center for American Progress
(article source: The Hunt Institute)

The Every Student Succeeds Acap1ct (ESSA) passed in 2015, ending the reign of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as the nation’s major K-12 education law. ESSA makes key changes in education policy that, in tandem, allow states to transform failing schools into pillars of learning.

With the first regulations governing NCLB’s turnaround program, called “school improvement grants” (SIG), schools receiving funds under Title I of NCLB failing to meet any state performance targets for six consecutive years could receive any amount of additional improvement funds. Schools implemented specific remedies and received a small portion of SIG funds to do so. Few of the 5,000 failing schools improved by 2008.

The later 2009 SIG regulations modified SIG drastically. States granted schools funds directly to implement one of four specific “turnaround models.” Eligible schools performed in the bottom five percent of those receiving federal funds. Schools could receive anywhere from $50,000 to $2 million annually for three years.

The new law eliminates this program. Instead, states are required to set aside at least seven percent of ESSA’s Title I funds. States grant these funds to districts with two types of low-performing schools, now making districts directly responsible for turnaround efforts. Funding amounts also vary, from $50,000 to $500,000 annually. Districts support schools in implementing “evidence-based” interventions that also fit the school’s needs.

These changes align with broader changes under ESSA that, viewed collectively, guide states to develop robust systems of education that prepare students for college and careers. States must implement academic standards that align with credit-bearing coursework and relevant technical education standards. States classify school performance according to multiple measures that offer a broader view of school and student success, including non-academic measures. Finally, states can use funds to build the capacity of teachers to implement supports known to improve student outcomes.

These requirements also apply to low-performing schools.

Since states must have a more comprehensive turnaround approach, they would proceed most purposefully if they develop consensus on two things before designing their turnaround strategy.

The first is developing a measurable definition of college and career ready. What knowledge, skills, and abilities ensure students are ready for the postsecondary pathway of their choice?

Students need academic content on a range of subjects, including a state’s technical education standards. They also need to gain skills that help them become lifelong learners. Research lists a gamut of these types of skills. In addition, students need exposure and access to the range of postsecondary education pathways that lead to in-demand and high-growth careers.

The second consideration is developing a definition of the types of teaching and learning that produce college and career readiness for students. What knowledge, skills and abilities do teachers need in order to help students reach college and career readiness? Here, states or districts may pursue strategies like deeper learning; use competency-based education to measure student mastery instead of classroom seat time; and/or use professional learning communities to allow teachers to use collective expertise to grow their capacity to use these techniques.

Other state-level approaches to turnaround can promote or hinder schools from taking on these strategies.

A recent Center for American Progress (CAP) report identifies seven tenets for states to consider when fostering successful turnaround at the local level. These considerations range from funding and authority strategies to accountability and local capacity building. Applying these tenets sets the conditions for failing schools to thrive.

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