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Many States Lack Focus on Equity in School Improvement, Report Suggests

By Alyson Klein — November 15, 2018 3 min read
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Many states aren’t doing a good job of making equity a focus of school improvement or taking their oversight role on school turnarounds seriously, a new study suggests. And it can be hard to tell how states will sustain their school improvement efforts.

That’s according to an analysis released Thursday of state school improvement materials conducted by HCM Strategies, a public policy and advocacy firm, in partnership with the Collaborative for Student Success, a Washington-based advocacy organization. The report looked at 17 states, chosen because there was enough data available to evaluate their school improvement process. The report considered each state’s application for districts to receive school improvement funding, its scoring rubric for the application, the state’s guidance for districts or schools to develop and implement their improvement plans, and other materials.

States were judged on a rubric developed by experts that included things like whether the state had a coherent vision for improving student outcomes, use of resources, the review process for district plans, and continuous improvement, monitoring, and evaluation.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states and districts—not the federal government—figure out how to fix low-performing schools. States must reserve 7 percent of their Title I money to help struggling schools get better. But they can decide how those dollars are distributed.

Many of the states in the study referenced “equity” in some way in their school improvement materials, the report found. But fewer than half clearly said it would be a focus of their improvement efforts. States largely did not explain how they would address inequities on high-quality teachers, curriculum, and enrichment opportunities among their schools.

States also have a role in overseeing district turnaround efforts, but many of those studied aren’t taking it seriously, the report found. It’s hard to tell from state applications whether they are allocating school improvement funds in a way that will direct the most money to the neediest schools. It’s also unclear whether some states are using a “robust, data-driven” process to track how districts are implementing their improvement plans.

And states are taking different approaches when it comes to who is in the driver’s seat on school improvement. Four states studied—Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Tennessee—have carved out a strong role for the state in overseeing turnarounds. Five states—Connecticut, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Nevada—are taking more of a monitoring and coaching role. And eight states—Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New York, and Texas—are leaving school improvement largely up to districts.

The report gives shout-outs to some of what it sees as best practices in school improvement, including Tennessee’s detailed application and Nevada’s choice to ask schools how their chosen school improvement strategy will address resource gaps.

And it offers hope that state approaches to school improvement will get better overtime.

“For some, this report will confirm their fears that the wide latitude under the new law will lead to the path of least resistance,” the authors wrote in their executive summary. “There is no doubt that in some states that is true. However, our hope is that this review is a useful tool to state education leaders, educators, stakeholders, and advocates as they grapple with the right leadership models, policies, and interventions to dramatically improve their lowest performing schools.”

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here’s some useful information:

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