Survey Finds More State-District Collaboration on School Turnarounds Under ESSA

By Daarel Burnette II — March 27, 2019 2 min read
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Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states and school districts butted heads over turning around their worst-performing schools, including such sweeping measures as attempting to take over such schools, fire schools’ entire teaching staffs, or hand the schools over to charter operators.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, NCLB’s predecessor, leaves up to states the ability to figure out what to do about persistently underperforming schools as long as it’s research-based. And the Council of Chief State School Officers in a new report says states are taking a more collaborative approach in the school improvement arena under ESSA.

“State leaders are digging in with their stakeholders and partners and leading changes that are increasing educational equity for all students,” CCSSO Executive Director Carissa Moffat Miller said in a statement.

The report, which surveyed 41 state leaders about their ESSA plans, says that states are working with district leaders to better collect, analyze and use data, building networks of school and district leaders to exchange ideas, and pairing federal and state money to fund expensive turnaround programs. ESSA also requires local and state officials to determine if they’re using their money in the most effective ways.

Dramatically improving the nation’s worst-performing schools is an exceedingly difficult and expensive task. It may require the recruitment of superstar teachers, curriculum overhauls, and wraparound services for poor and historically disadvantaged student bodies.

State leaders have said while designing their ESSA plans they’ve wanted to concentrate federal and state funds in just a handful of underperforming schools rather than dissipate limited money across several schools. They’ve also wanted to move away from politically fraught showdowns between state and local leaders over the fate of the schools. States’ departments of education also have had churning leadership and diminished budgets in recent years and many lack the capacity to directly run schools, state leaders have pointed out.

States’ new approaches vary widely, according to the new report.

California, for example, created an entirely new state department to oversee school improvement. Wyoming has conducted data retreats for school staff, and several states, including Indiana, Oregon and Washington have made a concerted effort to pair districts with state-approved school improvement vendors .

“This report shines a light on the intentional and concrete action states are undertaking on behalf of all students, and is a valuable resource for state leaders and stakeholders as they partner to transform struggling schools and improve educational opportunities for all students, Miller said. “Work remains, but states are committed.”

Read the complete report here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.