To the Editor:
There’s no single strategy for turning around low-performing schools. But in its recent report, the Council of the Great City Schools offers critical insights about the effective use of School Improvement Grants (“Did Billions of Dollars in School Turnaround Aid Help?” Politics K-12 blog, www.edweek.org, Jan. 30, 2015).
The council also offers a few sweeping statements based on minimal data, anecdotal interviews, and a general disregard for evidence. It implies that districts and schools that engage evidence-based organizations as external partners may be distracting schools from improving academic instruction. The hypothesis holds that if districts and schools had focused more resources on instructional practices than on wraparound services, they would have gotten better results. There is no proof of this. That hypothesis comes from qualitative interviews that the council conducted as part of a case study with only 50 people in eight districts. The sample of respondents is alarmingly low, even for a qualitative case study.
The report fails to provide any data linking the practice of engaging external partners to schools’ academic outcomes. Communities In Schools, the nonprofit organization where I work, partners with more than 2,200 schools across the country to meet the academic and nonacademic barriers that kids face. We free up teachers to teach and kids to learn and drive positive academic outcomes. Independent researchers from groups such as Child Trends have conducted credible research that points to the effectiveness of our model of delivering integrated student supports, or wraparound services. We provide many of the services that the council’s report refers to as positive, including behavior interventions, social-emotional supports, and parent engagement.
Our role as a partner—along with City Year and Johns Hopkins University’s Talent Development—in the school reform efforts being undertaken by Diplomas Now exemplifies the importance of adopting a comprehensive approach to reform that includes instructional strategies; professional development and coaching; the use of data to inform teaching and learning; and the availability of tiered student supports or wraparound services.
The job of helping kids in low-performing schools succeed does not fall on any one single organization. It is a group effort.
Heather J. Clawson
Executive Vice President
Research, Learning, and Accreditation
Communities In Schools
A version of this article appeared in the February 25, 2015 edition of Education Week as Low-Performing Schools Gain From a Group Effort