State Case Studies

By Jeff Archer — September 12, 2006 4 min read
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Michigan | Connecticut | California | South Carolina


  • Number of Title I schools: 1,111
  • Percent of Title I schools in need of improvement: 21.4
  • Number of districts with Title I schools: 329
  • Percent of Title I districts with schools in need of improvement: 17.9

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Building Capacity

Five years ago, the Michigan Department of Education dispatched a small group of highly skilled educators to work full time with low-performing schools around the state. Later, the agency told them to write down what they’d learned. The result is “MI-MAP,” a how-to book for turning schools around. In detailed steps, it spells out the process for putting in place such elements of effective schools as systems for student behavior management and collaborative professional learning.

Teams of educators from schools in the state listed as needing improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act now get two days of training on MI-MAP. Education departments in other states also have bought the guide to incorporate its lessons into their own work. (Information can be found at

The Michigan department has further distilled the ingredients of school success into a shorter “framework” to help schools organize their efforts. The agency sees the framework as a curriculum for school improvement, and MI-MAP as the lesson plans.


  • Number of Title I schools: 492
  • Percent of Title I schools in need of improvement: 19.9
  • Number of districts with Title I schools: 148
  • Percent of Title I districts with schools in need of improvement: 12.2

In Connecticut, state leaders are helping school districts learn from one another. The education department there has formed two cohorts of leadership teams out of 10 districts that have low-performing schools.

In regular meetings organized by the state, members of each cohort have shared ideas on how to put into place datadriven strategies for improvement planning. They’ve all received training on such strategies through the agency.

Each meeting brings together about 40 to 50 people, including superintendents, principals, and district curriculum specialists. A third cohort is in the works, as is a similar series of gatherings specifically for school board members from districts with low-performing schools.

This past April, the state also hosted its first statewide “data fair,” where districts could show off how they track student progress and easure the success of their improvement strategies. Some 400 people attended. A second fair is planned for next spring.


  • Number of Title I schools: 5,579
  • Percent of Title I schools in need of improvement: 31.3
  • Number of districts with Title I schools: 962
  • Percent of Title I districts with schools in need of improvement: 37.7

With more schools under its jurisdiction than its counterpart in any other state, the California Department of Education can’t support every school that needs assistance itself. So it relies extensively on outside help.

Low-performing schools contract with one of 50-some external providers that have been approved by the state to form “school assistance improvement teams.” Many are countywide education offices. Others are private consulting groups.

State guidelines spell out the work of the teams in assessing schools’ needs and in providing ongoing support with the implementation of improvement plans. Schools receive grants from the state to help pay for the providers. Last year, 200 schools had such teams.

The state is piloting a similar program using external providers to work with entire districts. That effort includes a new statewide survey process to be used in evaluating districts in such areas as curriculum management, use of data, and parental involvement.

South Carolina

  • Number of Title I schools: 555
  • Percent of Title I schools in need of improvement: 2.5
  • Number of districts with Title I schools: 88
  • Percent of Title I districts with schools in need of improvement: 35.2

The South Carolina Department of Education has long relied on an army of specialists to provide on-site and intensive coaching to low-performing schools. But faced this year with its first three districts identified for corrective action under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the state took a different tack.

All three districts were required to adopt a K-8 curriculum designed by Anderson County School District Five, a 12,000-student South Carolina system that already had been selling its curricular materials to other districts.

Anderson’s curriculum is aligned with the state’s academic standards, and is broken down into unit plans and pacing guides meant to help teachers make sure they cover all the skills that students are expected to learn within each grade.

State education department leaders say the Anderson model won’t automatically be mandated for all districts that wind up in corrective action. But after evaluating the first districts in the state to get that designation, they concluded that each lacked a coherent curriculum.


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