Education Chat

New Leadership Role for States: Instructional Improvement for Low-Performing Schools

During this live Web chat, our guests discussed the new leadership role states are taking to improve instruction in low-performing schools.

New Leadership Role for States: Instructional Improvement for Low-Performing Schools
Sept. 19, 2006
Paul Reville, president, The Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy;
Yvonne Caamal Canul, director of the office of school improvement, Michigan Department of Education; and
Christopher B. Swanson, director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat to discuss the new leadership role states are taking to improve instruction in low-performing schools.

Today’s chat is part of Education Week‘s annual special report, “Leading for Learning.” This year’s report, released this month, examines states relatively new, but increasingly critical, role in building local capacity to improve instruction.

This is a big challenge for states. And one that raises many questions that our guests will now address.

Question from Ernestine Key, Policy Anlalyst, West Wind Education Policy:
What are the most pressing issues around teacher quality that state education agencies, especially Michigan, are struggling to deal with?

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
One of our major initiatives this year is to focus on the standards/criteria we use to certify/endorse teacher preparation programs and analyzing policies regarding teacher recruitment and retention. We have nationally recognized institutions of higher education in Michigan, however, we export too many great teachers to other states with an abundance of elementary teachers and not enough in science, math, special education. We are also concerned with how teachers are assigned in districts, noting that many of our high priority schools are often not staffed by experienced teachers. We also know that while there has been an emphasis on developing a rigorous curriculum with specific learning expectations, we need to spend more time on promoting effective instructional design and delivery. Dr. Richard Elmore speaks to protocols of practice as being a notion we all too often ignore when thinking about effective instruction. In Michigan’s School Improvement Framework, we have highlighted the importance of the design and delivery of instruction. In our High School Redesign initiatives, we speak to changing instructional practices. And, as we work with institutions of higher education as they prepare our future teachers, we cannot focus only on content, but also on the delivery of this content in pedagogically appropriate ways.

Question from Honey Leshaw, instructor, Muirlands Middle School:
What can schools, teachers, districts do to educate, push, and encourage parents of struggling underachieving students to take an active, powerful role in their child’s struggle for academic parity or excellence?

Paul Reville:
The first step is to make parents feel welcome, included and an essential part of their child’s educational experience. Schools can be forbidding places for many parents. Schools need to reach out to reluctant parents and provide them with a variety of opportunities and supports for becoming engaged. Once engaged, parents need training in how they can effectively support their children’s academic success. Partnerships with community based organizations often help school districts in doing parental outreach and training. Some districts are now hiring staff whose sole role is to reach out to and support parents as partners in the education process.

(James Comer of Yale University has done some outstanding work in this field.)

Question from Manuel B. Rodriguez, Ed. D. , Assistant Superintendent, Baltimore County Public Schools.:
How does the State of Michigan focus, at the classroom level, on getting more students who are categorized as basic to acquire the necessary knowledge base to move to proficient in the core content courses. (Reading, Math)

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
In March of 2004, Michigan developed and disseminated our Grade Level Content Expectations (GLCE) for English Language Arts and Mathematics for Grades K - 8. This year, we will be working on GLCE K - 7 Science and K - 8 for Social Studies. We also just finished developing High School Content Expectations for all of the credits required for graduation in our new Michigan Merit Curriculum: Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, Statistics; ELA 9, 10, 11, and 12; Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics; Visual, Performing, and Applied Arts; Online Learning; Health/Physical Education; U.S. History & Geography, World History & Geography, Economics, Civics - will be ready in July 2007; Languages other than English - ready in July 2007.

We believe that by making learning expectations clear, specific, and paced by grade level, we are establishing the standards for what students should know and be able to do in each classroom at every grade level.

Our statewide assessment system is aligned to these GLCE and data are reported based on the extent to which students are successful on the GLCE. There are also several local initiatives that have aligned their own LBA’s with our GLCE.

We are also involved in regional collaboratives with our Intermediate School Districts, our Math/Science Centers, our partners in the Education/Professional Organizations, and our Institutions of Higher Education. And while we don’t have an opportunity to directly impact classroom instruction, we believe we are creating the necessary expectations, energy, and opportunity for our educational community to engage in practices that will lead towards increased student achievement.

Question from Richarde W. Donelan, (former secondary science teacher and school leader) Educational Consultant, National Urban Alliance:
How should we view instructional leadership practices that build on the cultural backgrounds and language skills of the students and teachers and link them to the content to be learned, how does this approach help or hinder literacy in the content areas and why?

Paul Reville:
Cultural competence is a key skill of today’s education leaders. Leaders must develop an understanding of the students in their schools, whose backgrounds and experiences often differ from their own. However, this is just one skill among many that leaders must bring to their work in schools. Teachers and leaders must also continually develop their command of new practices in the content areas-- and work at a school level to ensure that cultural awareness is integrated into teaching in the core subject areas.

Question from Dr. Rita Egan UK:
Would the states consider reallocation of resources so that all underperforming schools have significantly reduced class sizes and high performing schools have larger classes - especially schools located in wealthier areas.

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
Currently Michigan includes an extra allocation in school aid - the amount of state funding allocated to each student in a school district - that can be used for reduced class sizes. Additionally, we have allowed districts to use their Title IIA funds for the purposes of reducing class sizes - after their contract limits have been met with their general fund dollars - with highly qualified staff. We know that effective instruction has more impact on student achievement than reduced class size. It might be more appropriate to allocate our resources towards professional learning and increasing effective instructional practices. I think it is unlikely that Michigan would reallocate state resources so that underperforming schools had smaller class sizes than higher performing ones. Michigan has a strong local control culture and each district decides, based on its own needs assessment, what is best for its situation.

Question from M. Dowd, Moderate Needs, Crawford Elementary:
I teach in a school whose highest area is 33% proficient. My principal forces us to use balanced literacy, doesn’t believe in teaching algorithms or basic facts and requires all writing be done in draftbooks. Any teacher who attempts to use any proven method not in line with her beliefs, faces harassment, unsatisfactory ratings and non-renewal. Laws state that valid research meeting scientific standards need to be used in schools, when are those laws going to be enforced and when are principals going to be held accountable for what they force teachers to teach?

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
In Michigan, we have Grade Level Content Expectations for English Language Arts and Mathematics for grades K - 8 and High School Content Expectations for ELA and Mathematics for ELA 9, 10, 11, and 12 and Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, and Statistics & Probability. We expect teachers to teach these expectations and we expect school leaders to monitor their implementation. Schools are ultimately held accountable in NCLB based on student achievement. A school that fails to make Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years is subject to sanctions. If a school fails to make AYP for 5 consecutive years, a district may replace the principal. So, accountability is embedded in the process.

Question from Wandaleen Adams, Director, Lee County Public Schools:
What role will the parents play for improving the leadership role in low performing schools?

Paul Reville:
Parents can play several roles in influencing leadership decisions made by school districts. Parents can insist on being included in key leadership selection and policy decisions through their roles on various school councils or through advocacy with district administrators and/or the school board. NCLB mandates parental participation in school and district planning, yet many districts ignore this requirement. Parents should insist on their rights to help shape school improvement and leadership plans.

Question from :
In a school where scores seem to be stagnating where many strategies have been implemented from scheduling, teaching techniques, etc, what is one idea that you would suggest that would help jump-start the program?

Paul Reville:
While it is possible for all students to achieve high academic standards, some may take longer than others to reach the goals that states and the federal government have established. In Massachusetts, the state has begun to pilot models of extended learning time in urban schools around the state. Students in these schools attend school for 30% longer than they have in past years allowing additional time in core subject areas as well as time for enrichment activities.

Question from David Triggs, Principal and CEO, Greensward Technology College, Essex UK:
1. For the last 7 years I have been working with schools that are under-achieving. The Gestalt we have developed to bring about a rapid rise in standards has transformed these schools in the UK. Can you describe the School Improvement Model you are employing?

2. What is the leadership development model you are using to ensure that you are building the capacity of school leaders to take responsibility for their school’s sustainable and continuous development?

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
Michigan adopted a School Improvement Framework in December of 2005. It has 5 Strands: Teaching for Learning, Leadership, Personnel and Professional Learning, School & Community Involvement, and Data & Information Management. There are 12 Standards and 26 Benchmarks. We have rubrics for 90 characteristics that research indicates is essential for continuous school improvement. You can access the School Improvement Framework at: In order for Michigan to move forward in the area of school improvement, we believed that it was essential to have a school improvement curriculum to guide our work. We cross-walked all of the current research and found the common elements.

Our leadership model is based on Balanced Leadership, research from Marzano, McNulty, and Waters - with a special focus on leadership in first and second order change. We have been awarded a grant from the Microsoft Corporation to develop MI-LIFE (Michigan Leadership Improvement Framework Endorsement), a curriculum for training and leadership development. It is based on 3 concepts: the School Improvement Framework, Balanced Leadership, and Corporate Acumen. You can access information by going to:

Question from Mrs. Rose Moore - ADHD Child Advocate Services:
Professional Development is a hit or miss situation when it comes to what the teachers need to take to become Highly Qualified. Should the State assign certain classes AND should teachers be testing on what they learn as well as how they apply it in the classroom?

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
Focused professional learning is essential for increasing student achievement and I think that we are reaching some clarity on what is needed for teachers to be truly highly qualified, beyond NCLB. However, the flexibility that is built into the law allows for the tremendous disparity among state contexts with regards to teacher training in both pre-service and inservice situations. Michigan’s Institutions of Higher Education are not under the jurisdiction of our department of education and as autonomous entities, have developed their own set of required learning. Our SEA does, however, have the authority to endorse their teacher-training programs and currently we are taking a very close look at the criteria and standards we use to grant endorsement. Research that was released just recently indicates that we need to focus national attention on teacher preparation. From my own pedagogical perspective, I think NCLB’s Highly Qualified requirement of deep content knowledge should have been coupled with deeper understanding of how to design and deliver effective instruction.

Question from Trishia Nash, Director Options for Excellence Outreach Program, Arizona State University:
Low Performing schools lack resources and an adequately trained staff. What do you advocate districts do to institute professional development programs ( especially in math and science) when their funding is limited?

Paul Reville:
Districts and states often perform needs assessments of low performing schools and help them engage in a process of improvement planning. Data from this process can help schools to pin-point their professional development needs and spend the resources they do have wisely. Further, districts and states can help low-performing schools by creating incentives for experienced teachers to teach or serve as instructional coaches in those schools.

Question from Paul Tringali, Dir of Admin. & Inst. Technology, Valley Stream CHSD:
I’d be interested in the panel’s observations on the correlation between a school’s instructional performance and the success or failure of a new student information system.

Christopher B. Swanson:
We examined the issues of student information systems in a good amount of detail earlier this year as part of the Technology Counts report.

There we found that states have been making important strides toward implementing comprehensive information systems that can track the performance of students over time as well as linking information about teachers to the students they teach. But states are at different points along the path leading to a fully-functional and educationally-effective information system. For example, as of the 2005-06 school year, 44 states had an identification system in place that would let them follow individual student over time. But only 5 states had a student ID system, collected rich types of student and teacher data, and could link those student and teacher data systems.

Another place where we found that most states still had considerable strides to make was getting useable data into the hands of educators and linking student performance data with instructional practices. In many ways that will be next frontier in data-driven decision making.

Having data system infrastructure in place is only one piece of the puzzle. Without making raw data from those systems understandable and actionable for educators, the instructional impact of information systems will be limited. It’s too early for a true test of the link between instructional performance and information systems. But we should be looking to states that are further along in implementing robust systems (like Florida) for early indications of their effectiveness.

Question from Vaden Chandler, Elementary Education Major, Adams State College:
What special circumstances (such as demographics, rural or urban, etc.) does the state take into account when trying to improve a low-performing school? What strategies do they use?

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
We look at how to build statewide capacity by providing regionally-based technical assistance. High Priority rural schools are more sparsely distributed across our state so we make every attempt to reach out to them by scheduling professional learning opportunities close to where they are located. We support many activities through our Intermediate School Districts - we have 57 ISDs, all with various capacities for providing the kind of focused assistance needed for high priority schools. Our SEA’s Office of School Improvement has a field services unit with 5 teams of education consultants that work with all of our schools, the more rural ones get more targeted assistance from our staff. Urban schools have the advantage of building cohort capacity and their ISDs tend to have more staff dedicated to assisting high priority schools.

Two years ago we developed a Coaches’ Institute ( provided training to 93 educators - many of them retired school personnel - to become turn-around specialists for our high priority schools. Participants from across the state received the training and were available to high priority schools to work as mentors. Schools were encouraged to use their Title I technical assistance funds (set aside) to hire coaches. The Coaches’ Institute was a spin-off of our very successful Partnership for Success pilot that placed highly skilled and experienced educators in the state’s highest priority schools to provide technical assistance in the areas of Leadership, Continuous School Improvement, and Building Capacity. When state funding expired for this program, we retooled and offered the Coaches’ Institute so as to train potential coaches with a curriculum that was developed as a result of what we learned in the Partnership.

Through the Partnership we also developed Mi-MAP Toolkits. Mi-MAP is a ruthlessly practical approach to school reform providing several strategies in 9 categories for schools to implement. Mi-MAP kits and training were distributed to all of our high priority schools in Phases 1, 2, and 3 of NCLB. For more information on Mi-MAP, go to:

Question from Cheryl Brown, Ridgeview Elem, Clay School System:
When is accountability going to be put in place for the parents? We as educators can only do so much.

Paul Reville:
Many charter schools offer innovative models of parental accountability. For example, parents might sign a contract at the beginning of the school year in which they commit to making time and space in the home every day for homework. It makes sense for traditional public schools to explore these models in an effort to generate parental engagement and, ultimately, improved student outcomes. In any event, parental accountability must be preceded by parental engagement. Parents can be partners to educators if and when parents feel included.

Question from James Turner Teacher El Camino Middle Sc hool:
How are we going to deal with the fragmentation of education by special interest groups that seem to be eating up all of the general funding. Examples are the special ed kids that are eating more and more of the general funds. Now the language minority kids are starting to do that also. Given the current trend and the federal goverments lack of funding for its programs some day regular kids will not be allowed in school. James Turner MAE, JD

Paul Reville:
We should be applauded, as a society, for making a full commitment to fully educating all of our children. You certainly identify a special challenge for educators and policy-makers i.e. how do you provide adequate funding to meet the needs of all learners when the needs of the learners vary depending on the challenges in their respective lives. If we are to realize our ideals as a society, then federal, state and local officials are going to have to cooperate in providing adequate funding for educating all children to proficiency. This isn’t exclusively a problem to be solved at the federal level, the feds currently supply only 8% of overall education funding. States who provide the largest share of funding are going to have to lead the way. If not, advocates will certainly continue to take them to court for failing to provide adequate funding.

Question from Alex Harris, senior policy analyst, National Governors Association:
Thank you for addressing this important topic. State education agencies are obviously facing tremendous pressure to support school level change. My question is this - at its best, what should the SEA organizational response look like and are there barriers other than money and culture that hinder momentum?

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
Our SEA had undergone drastic reductions in staffing over a 10 -12 period, so when NCLB was enacted in 2001, it took some time for the DOE to reshape itself (logistically and philosophically) under the new mandates. I’m not sure my answers will fall outside of the two categories you have suggested: money and culture. One of the barriers to my work has been the employment structure of a system that is not in step with the current employment context. When you have to develop and implement initiatives in a timely manner, the civil service structure does not lend itself to project-based, multiple skill, flexible schedule work assignments. It is also hard to attract good candidates when the salaries are comparitively lower than what one would be paid in a district as a teacher or administrator. We have managed to attract many retired school personnel who are not dependent upon their civil service salary for survival. But, that leaves us with a succession planning problem. The nature of the work also changes - as soon as a person is hired to do one specific job, a new initiative/grant/mandate requires a different skill set. Retraining isn’t always the answer because much of our work is in constructing the right message, developing a structure that looks at implementation from a 30,000 foot view, working collaboratively with layers of players - systems thinking and people skills.

So, at it’s best, I think the SEA needs to lay out the vision for the response, develop the guiding framework, be clear about its mission and purpose, and foster multi-level partnerships with others in the field. This is a big cultural change, but I have seen it happening because we know we cannot do it by ourselves.

As a side note, we extend these partnerships to a national arena - with grants from the Wallace Foundation, the Microsoft Corporation, and the National Governor’s Association, we are able to do quality work with great people.

Question from John Clay, teacher, Glendale Middle School Salt Lake City Utah:
It is my belief that soon no school in America will be able to comply with the NCLB requirements. The subgroup that will be most often seen as underperforming will be Special Education. I wonder if the expectations are too high for these students or the system of seperate and individual expectations that are usually lower than regular education and taught by teachers that are often not specialists in content area could be the cause rather than the solution?

Paul Reville:
I’m the parent of a couple of children with disabilities and, as such, I’m delighted that we now have state and federal laws which insist that our children be held to the same rigorous standards that apply to others. We know that the alternative, two-tiered system of expectations too often allowed our children to be shunted aside because they were assumed to be incapable and their performance didn’t count. Now, their performance counts in the school’s accountability system, and their needs get addressed. However, those who teach special needs students still need lots of professional support if they are to be effective at advancing these students to proficiency. Teachers are being asked to do something new, and they’ll need professional development, favorable ratios and technical assistance in order to be successful.

Question from Vance Kirklin, VP of Product Marketing, Academic Accelerator:
How important are school improvement planning and incremental monitoring of progress toward the goals? If they are important, why is it only required, in most states, for those already in academic trouble?

Paul Reville:
School improvement planning based on data can be instrumental in the school improvement process. However, districts and schools need good data and a long-term vision to successfully move a plan into action. (1) Data: Schools need data from formative assessments that measure the growth of individual students over time. (2) Vision: As you note, districts and schools must have a plan for monitoring data that extends beyond the initial planning process. Teachers need time to collaborate using data and modify instruction.

Most states have entered into the school improvement planning process only with low performing schools because state department of education (and their outside partners in this work) have limited capacity. States typically play a limited role in the operations of schools making adequate yearly progress. Because undertaking a planning process with a school requires continued monitoring of progress by the state, a limited number of schools can receive this level of intense attention.

It is worth noting that NCLB requires schools to have improvement plans and obligates them to consult extensively with parents during planning activities.

Question from Charles Hoff, School Board, Federal Way School District, WA:
Where has anyone seen any state intervention or other contribution that has improved achievement?

Paul Reville:
For several years, Massachusetts provided LEA’s with support for intensive academic support services to those at risk of failing the state’s high school exit exams. districts reported that this intervention was enormously helpful. Though most state education agencies lack capacity and have no political constituency, they can provide meaningful supports. See the Rennie Center’s report on State Capacity (renniecenter.oreg).

Question from Sarah Williams, Music Director, Modesto Christian School:
With soaring prices of professional growth classes, how is an average classroom teacher or principal able to afford more leadership classes? Our budgets are so restricted now for professional growth, do you have any solutions for aspiring teachers who want to go into leadership postions? Sarah Wms.

Paul Reville:
It is in the interest of the district to resolve this issue at a system level, rather than leaving it to individual teachers to pay for professional growth opportunities. Following from the model of many successful businesses, several large urban districts have taken steps to “grow their own” future leaders. This model has several benefits including cultivating leaders who are already committed to the district and reducing recruitment costs from the district budget. The Boston Public Schools, for example, have formal programs for teachers interested in learning more about the principalship and training for non-administrative leaders such as coaches.

Question from Shayla Jackson Ward, Editor-in-Chief, No Child Left Behind Alert:
Do states have selection criteria in place when determining which indviduals are qualified to help coach school leaders? How are states certain that they’re sending the right individuals with the right knowledge and experience to their respective districts?

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
No we don’t, but we’ve learned a lot about coaching in the last 5 years. In 2001 the state launched a pilot project, Partnership for Success. Modeled after Kentucky’s distinguished educator program, our SEA selected 14 experience educators to work as coaches in high priority schools. The criteria for selection was based on experience in school level decision making, experience as a facilitator, deep knowledge of curriculum and instruction, understanding of the use of data, ability to lead a group of people, and knowledge in developing capacity. Some of the 14 were very successful, but in a couple of cases, they terminated before the year ended. Out of that experience we discovered that there was a set of guiding assumptions that a Partner Educator had to embrace: Co-creation of the solution with the participants is crucial, effective school leadership is essential, data must drive decisions, and networks create knowledge and options. Going in with the answer did not make for a good Partner Educator.

When the pilot ended, the SEA granted to Michigan State University a project to train coaches for our schools in Phases 3 and beyond. Based on the learnings from the Partnership and using Edgar Schien’s model of process consultation, we trained 93 coaches during a 4 month period. Schools in Phases 3 + were encouraged to hire coaches - they developed the contracts, set the role and functions, established the working guidelines, etc. What we discovered was that by and large coaches were very successful, in a couple of cases, they were not. We also found that maintaining objectivity was essential, focusing on a mentoring role, facilitating behind the scenes, in like the fog not like an iceberg.

We are learning so much more about this process. We know that principal-to-principal mentoring programs are hard to maintain. It’s also very difficult to find the right match. We have maintained the cohort of coaches - some have dropped off - and provide ongoing involvement in all of our initiatives so that they are kept in the loop. We use them as facilitators and presenters, advisors, committee members - providing a variety of services so that they also continue to grow and learn.

Currently we are redesigning our coaching program and will shortly send out an RFP to train another cadre. We know much more now than we did before, I imagine that we will have a much more rigorous selection criteria - and share with schools what they should be looking for.

Question from Lisa Ross, Federal Policy Director, Pre-K Now:
I understand that NCLB testing is not required until 3rd grade but given the research on the problems that exist when children start out behind or get behind early in their educational careers, do you see an increasing need for state leaders to focus on access to and quality of pre-k programs for 3 and 4 year olds?

Paul Reville:
I think the arguments in favor of high quality early childhood education for all children are compelling. We have lots of evidence from neuroscience, child development studies and educational experience to suggest that the early years are the most crucial years in which to assure that children have a stimulating educational environment. I think most state leaders realize that if they want to improve academic performance in the K-12 years, it is essential to have a high quality early childhood system.

Question from :
To what extent is the school improvement committee used as a collaborative tool and systemic strategy by school leaders?

Paul Reville:
The simple answer is that some do and some don’t. Many education leaders see a comprehensive school improvement planning process as an essential pre-condition for the improvement process. I think they’re right. People support what they help create. If you want to turn around performance in a struggling school, the key constituencies in that school (teachers, administrators, parents, students, staff etc.) need to be consulted in the planning of the improvement process. If the plans have any hope of succeeding, those charged with implementation of the improvement strategies must be convinced of their potential to succeed. Those leaders who neglect such an inclusive planning process do so at their own peril.

Question from karen schafer, towson university:
What is your response to the Levine report released this week?

Paul Reville:
Schools of Education, and I work for one, can do a much better job of preparing the nation’s future educators and educational leaders. I have not read chapter and verse of Levine’s report, but I think he makes a reasonable diagnosis and I support the general direction of his recommendations. The problem is that it’s hard to generalize about schools of education just as it would be hard to generalize about universities. Suffice it to say that change is hard for everyone. We, in schools of education, are often much better at prescribing changes for others that we are at making changes ourselves. If we’re serious about being important partners in the business of elementary and secondary education, we’ll need to get our own houses in order and align our work with the challenges in the field.

Question from Emily Becker, Research Analyst, Connectivity By Design:
Do you think that connecting students with educators according to similarities across personality, communication, and learning/work styles would result in increased student achievement, attendance, graduation rate, assessment scores, parental involvement, classroom management, teacher retention, student/faculty satisfaction, and student engagement?

Paul Reville:
Sometimes, it’s easier to communicate and form relationships with people with whom we have much in common. Sometimes, not. I’m not convinced that a complex, matching process such as the one you propose would yield, in and of itself, improved academic performance. Identity factors can help, but in the end, the most important variable in education is the quality of teaching. Reformers should concentrate on how to improve the teaching-learning transaction in the classroom. Cultural competency, interpersonal skill and communication skills are usually key components of effective teaching.

Question from Cara Jackson, policy analyst, US GAO:
MI was involved with school improvement initiatives prior to NCLB. What happens once a school has gone through restructuring? Does it continue to receive support?

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
Yes, we started down the NCLB sanctions path before many other states did. We now have schools in Phase 7. We thought perhaps we would get federal guidance on Phases 5+ since it seemed likely that within the first iteration of NCLB other states would have schools in advanced phases. However, in the absence of guidance, we have decided to use our own authority to determine what happens. For the schools last year that went into Phase 6, we administered a Comprehensive School Audit after which we made suggestions to the district about the continuation of the school. In a couple of cases, the district chose to close the school. In 4 others, the schools moved on to Phase 7 this year. We are transitioning into a more targeted approach with schools in each of the phases. We are looking at administering comprehensive (whole school not making AYP) and target (sub-group only) school audits beginning in Phase 3 so that by the time the school reaches Phase 5, they are advised (as is the district)that they should be closing down, handed over to a charter authorizer, or, right now we’re working on conceptualizing a Trusteeship or proxy authorizer on behalf of the state - kind of a hybrid between a charter school with independent governance and a school that maintains district authority but with governance handled by the Trustee. This is new territory and we’re just now exploring what it might look like.

However, we’re not interested in either starting the clock over or letting a school continue in restructuring forever. In terms of funding support, we do provide funding support, however, we basically tell the school and district how the money should be spent. The audits determine the best strategy for the school.

Question from James, visiting scholar, UW-Madison:
I think not only instructional improvement but also curriculum and academic improvement should be available for low-performing schools. Without quality curriculum and programs, it’s hard to have quality instruction. What are the differences among instructional leadership,curriculum leadership and academic leadership?

Paul Reville:
The dimensions of leadership that you identify are certainly overlapping and are defined in different ways by different people. Instructional leadership certainly entails leadership in the area of curriculum, as you assert it must. Low-performing schools often have principals who lack adequate knowledge in this area. Without it, they cannot be strong instructional leaders.

Academic leadership may be conceived of as a broader term that encompasses standards-setting and using data to drive educational decisions. As you note, these are areas that should be included in the support services provided to low-performing schools.

Question from M Sorensen, PhD Student, Walden University:
I wonder if you could comment on the limitations of instructional improvement to bring about needed change in schools. While the states absolutely lack resources to provide enough PD to truly change classroom practice, I wonder if we are barking up the wrong tree. I wonder if the correct path might be to put more of an emphasis on the kinds of change that would lead districts/buildings to foster instructional improvement and dedicate their own resources in that direction. I am thinking of things such as School Improvement Planning--which if done properly--asks questions about what needs to change and leads toward finding resources through building learning communities etc.

Paul Reville:
The challenge of school reform, particularly in a low-performing school, is putting all of the pieces together and sustaining improvement over time. Yes, the culture of many low-performing schools contributes to its ineffectiveness. Yes, improvement planning can help a school to determine a course of action that addresses its current weaknesses. However, ultimately, a planning process must be tied to student-level outcomes goals and the route to achieving those ends must include changes in instruction.

Question from Charles Hoff, Board Member, Federal Way:

Where are you going to find the disengaged parents that are willing to step up the plate and work to fix their schools achievement issues?

Paul Reville:
You’re going to have to go out and meet them where they are, where the children live. They’ll need to be invited in and persuaded that they’ll be treated seriously and respectfully. Many will need to be convinced that you believe they have a meaningful role to play.

Question from Sandra Lippman, Educational Consulant, NJ, Partners in Performance, LLC:
Can any of you comment on the hidden social costs now, and even more critical to us all, in the future, of a population, say in 2020, if low performing schools do not turn around in the near future?

Paul Reville:
A high performing school system serves society as well as the individuals in that society. Our economy is changing, has changed, and the preparation we are providing our students is no longer adequate to meet the needs of a 21st century, high knowledge, high skill, information age economy. If schools continue to fail, then students will fail not only in higher education, but in employment. These failures will not only stunt the growth of the economy but entail huge social costs in supporting those who are unprepared to enter the economy.

Question from Miles Myers, ISCA, Los Angeles:
The Coleman studies seemed to indicate that local control (development of social capitol), not State or Federal control, was the key to improving K-12 schools. Doesn’t the emphasis on State or Federal control work against the recommendations based on Coleman’s findings?

Christopher B. Swanson:
You have touched upon a very long running debate in educational research - the extent to which inside-school factors versus outside school factors. Another related issue is the extent to which local factors versus more distant influences like state or federal policy drive school improvement.

In his long career, Coleman weighed in on virtually every hotly-debated topic in education (and often fanned the flames of controversy in the process). And over time, his viewed on particular issues matured and changed. So it’s hard to pigeon-hole Coleman.

But what I think we do know, is that the effectiveness of reforms may depend very much on local capacity to act. We can think of that capacity in terms of social capital (like family and community supports) or human capital (like the qualifications of educators) or financial capital (per pupil spending) or any other flavor of capital one cares to name. The bottom line is that schools and communities, even low-performing ones, that have strength in such areas may find themselves in a better position to mobilize action around state or federal mandates when they do occur.

Question from Robin Brazley, Hempstead Public Schools:
How would you measure the harmful effects of pervasively low performing secondary schools on the potential of high achieving students?

Christopher B. Swanson:
Much of the current discussions around high school reform tend to focus on the experiences of low-performing students in low-performing schools. To a certain extent this is natural. If we want to tackle a problem, it makes to start where the problem is most serious. Often that means trying to ‘raise the floor’ in the sense of ensuring that all students are able to achieve to a certain minimum (but hopefully still academically solid) standard of performance.

But this approach to reform, if not implemented thoughtfully, could overlook the needs of higher-performing students in generally low-performing schools.

So what we need is balance. Interventions should afford the opportunity for all students to achieve to meaningful standards while at the same time not constraining the ability of high-performers to really spread their wings.

In practice, I think we probably meet those dual goals with mixed success. But if we think about the various strategies in currency within today’s high school reforms, there are positive signs worth noting.

For example, there is great interest in increasing the overall rigor of low-performing high schools (something that might aim for raising the floor). But these effort also include approaches aimed at keeping higher-performing students engaged such as: making AP and higher-level coursework more widely available; as well as dual enrollment (students enrolling in college-level courses while still in high school).

There is no one profile for the high school crisis. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits all solution. The real trick will be tailoring reform strategies to the needs of a particular school or district so that every student received the attention and support he or she needs.

Question from Patricia Fleming, Mid-Continent Comprehensivie Center, Oklahoma:
How important is it for states to provide very specific technical assistance (i.e. classroom instructional coaches and mentors) to those schools not making AYP. (since the research shows that the greatest impact on student achievement is the quality of instruction in the classroom)

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
We know the research tells us that the greatest impact on student achievement is effective instruction. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough staff to go into classrooms and provide specific technical assistance. We do believe that our role is to provide rigorous learning expectations that are specific and teacher-friendly. We provide professional learning for both teachers and administrators on what is quality/effective instruction and we work with teacher-training institutions to develop quality instructional programs.

Question from Cathy White, Program Consultant, Kentucky Department of Education:
How many states are currently assigning specific educators or consultants to go in and work with low-performing schools? What type of training is provided to these professionals?

Christopher B. Swanson:
As part of this year’s Leading for Learning report, Education Week staff examined the Consolidated Performance Reports provided by the states to the U.S. Department of Education. There, the states described the steps they are taking to provide assistance to low-performing schools and districts (that is, those identified as in ‘need of improvement’ under the No Child Left Behind Act).

From that review, we get a general picture about state approaches as they relate to the kinds of consultants or educator-provided services you are asking about. For example: 17 states provide on-site coaching or facilitation to groups; 19 states provide assistance through external providers (which could include consultants); and 14 states give schools their own on-site coach. These are not mutually-exclusive approaches, so a given state may provide more than one of these kinds of assistance.

So a substantial number of states appear to be engaging in these type of direct services, provided by educators, consultants, and other external providers. We do not have information on the specific qualifications or training the state requires in this regard, although that would be a good next step for those investigating this issue further.

Question from Elizabeth Powers, Senior Project Associate, George Washington Univ. Center for Equity and Excellence in Education:
How do states prioritize to determine which schools and districts will receive the most intensive support?

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
Now that we’ve had a few years to more deeply understand the nature of the reasons for not making AYP - and there are so many - we are in the process of rethinking our statewide system of both support and sanctions. It’s critical for us to have good, meaningful data on these schools so as to assist them in determining the most appropriate interventions. We try to look at a variety of factors such as, reasons for not making AYP, school size, district capacity, regional capacity, HQT status, principal tenure, support programs, AYP trajectory, among others. We have learned a couple of important things: 1) a school that doesn’t make AYP for reasons of achievement should receive a different kind of assistance than a school that doesn’t make AYP because of attendance and/or test participation; 2) sending more money to individual schools is less effective in the long run than creating economies of scale and targeting funds for regional support efforts; 3)some schools will eventually move into Phases 6 and beyond, for which there is no federal guidance so it’s up to the SEA to determine sanction options; and, 4)localized solutions are not always the most effective so the SEA needs to set the direction/vision, establish research-based strategies and provide on-going professional learning on continuous school improvement.

Currently we have several schools in Phases 5, 6, and 7 and in those schools we are administering a Comprehensive School Audit where we interview the principal and staff, asking questions about school context and AYP status. The audit produces a set of recommendations that we make to the district. We have significantly reduced the school and district’s authority to determine how technical assistance funds will be spent, requiring all to employ a turn-around specialist. We are in partnership with North Central Accreditation who have helped develop both the audit and the protocols. We are currently developing a Target Audit for those schools that don’t make AYP solely for sub-group.

For schools in Phases 1, 2, and 3 we have provided Mi-MAP kits and training ( for more information on Mi-MAP). We have also focused more effort on building statewide capacity through our Intermediate School Districts where regional support is more effective.

Question from Elizabeth Powers, Senior Project Associate, George Washington Univ. Center for Equity and Excellence in Education:
How do states work with, guide, retrain their regional offices or affiliates to target these organizations’ work towards support for schools and districts in improvement?

Yvonne Caamal Canul:
I think it’s critical that the SEA set the vision. We know that one of the reasons high priority schools struggle to make AYP is because of lack of focus and coherence. I think the same could be true for SEA’s. So, we went about establishing the following:

1) a School Improvement Framework - a curriculum for continuous school improvement so that, as a state, we would all be on the same page (and have the same lexicon) with regards to school improvement. The SIF was written and developed by a committee of authors from our Intermediate School Districts and Professional Organizations. We sponsored our first statewide conference last April with over 1200 people attending where we launched the framework and provided participants with conversation starter kits to take back to their schools. In November we’ll sponsor the next conference that takes the SIF’s benchmark indicators and rubrics to familiarize participants with how to self-assess. Each step of the way, our ISD’s and Prof. Organizations have been included in development and dissemination. (

2) Mi-LIFE - a leadership development curriculum that uses the School Improvement Framework, Balanced Leadership with a focus on first and second order change, and corporate acumen as its conceptual construct. This curriculum will be used by professional organizations that want to offer endorsement training to their constituents. The SEA will approve only those endorsement programs that use the Mi-LIFE curriculum. (

3)Mi-MAP Toolkit for School Reform - strategies developed by educators for educators. The kit, divided into 9 major areas of a school’s activities, provides all-inclusive strategies that staff can implement to help themselves turn their school around. Mi-MAP is aligned to the School Improvement Framework. (

4) Grade Level Content Expectations for ELA and Math in grades K - 8, High School Content Expectations for graduation requirements. Science K -7 and Social Studies K -12 are under development this year. Michigan’s professional organizations are very involved in supporting and disseminating the GLCE and HSCE. We develop dissemination kits and rollouts so that first we provide training to our colleagues in the Intermediate School Districts who then provide the training to their local constituents. We also have on-loan opportunities for ISD staff to be loaned to our SEA to assist us in the development and implementation of several projects. These partnerships increase capacity across the state. (

5) OSI Advisory Group - The Office of School Improvement convened an advisory group comprised of staff from the Intermediate School Districts for monthly meetings to provide feedback on proposed initiatives and policies.

6) The School Improvement Facilitator’s Network - a group of approximately 65 educators from local and intermediate school districts as well as now-retired educators who are involved with school improvement in a variety of ways. The Office of School Improvement partners with this organization to develop their meeting agendas, yearly initiatives, and calls upon them to provide facilitation and professional development throughout the state. They are considered adjunct staff to OSI.

We count heavily on the support and partnerhip from our Intermediate School Districts (Regional Education Service Areas) and our professional organizations. Our SEA does not have the staff capacity to do all the work needed to assist Michigan’s schools.

Question from Wendy Boszak, SPED teacher (former administrator) NVHS, NV:
We hear so much about data driven instruction. What data is available justifying multiple choice tests as the best method to assess achievement of standards? Additionally, what data indicates that only the results of one such test should be used to evaluate competence?

Christopher B. Swanson:
I’m not sure you would find many experts who would argue that multiple choice tests are the ‘best’ way to go about assessing students. Most would probably note that, ideally, we would want to assess student performance an as ‘authentic’ a means as possible. (That is, having students demonstrate their proficiency in rich, performance-based ways that more closely mirror the ways in which students learn and work.)

The tricky part, of course, is that in reality it can be hard to live up to the ideals we recognize.

At this point in time, a lot of testing goes on in the public schools as a result of federal and state mandates as well as entirely local decisions. In light of the sheer volume of testing, much assessment relies heavily (although not necessarily exclusively) on multiple choice items. Why? Ease of scoring and processing is one reason. In many cases it is simply not feasible (economically or otherwise) to use as much authentic assessment as many of us would like.

Does this mean that multiple choice testing is useless? Certainly not. Even if it’s not perfect, more traditional forms of assessment (assuming we have well-constructed tests) can generate a great deal of useful information.

So it is important to weigh the pros and cons. Multiple choice testing is efficient and allows us to generate a great deal of information quickly and relatively efficiently. But we may have a hard time getting at the subtle nuance of student learning.

There is no single formula for determining whether multiple choice tests are worthwhile. But an important question to ask about testing data, regardless of what kinds of tests were are talking about, is whether and how those data are used by educators. It’s hard to argue that even the ideally-designed assessment is valuable if just sits on a shelf and doesn’t generate insights that help schools and educators better serve their students.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for this informative online chat. And a special thanks to our guests for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer your questions.

This chat is now over. A transcript will be posted shortly on

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