From No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds Act: Where Do We Go From Here? CST

By Robert Glascock / January 04, 2016

Photo of an open book

When President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on December 10, 2015, I began to reflect on the past 13 years since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became a law. I thought about my involvement in the school improvement process as a district leader, a turnaround director at a state education agency (SEA), and now as an education consultant. I decided to share my experiences in school turnaround and what I learned from those experiences in a series of blog posts.

The goal is to engage educators, parents and families, researchers, policymakers, business entrepreneurs, and non-profit organizations in a reflective dialogue about what we have learned about school improvement and turnaround since the creation of NCLB and what we need to do move forward under ESSA to not only turnaround our lowest performing schools but sustain the improvements over time.

School Improvement in a School District

In 2002, I was the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in the Howard County Public School System (70 schools) in Maryland. Before the ink dried on the NCLB parchment, my Deputy Superintendent approached me in January 2002 about developing a plan to address the prevalent gaps in achievement that existed in the school system, especially in the schools with diverse student populations. I told her that I would form a task force and prepare a report to the Board of Education (BOE) for June. She turned to me and said gently, we go the BOE in March.

The result was the development of The Comprehensive Plan for Accelerated School Improvement (CPASI) as a district and school reform initiative designed to accelerate achievement for all students and provide intense focus and support for the lowest achieving schools in the district. The CPASI aligned processes and priorities throughout the school system and established clear expectations for all schools. The processes and priorities were:

  • Establishment of two system goals that address student performance and safe and nurturing environments that all schools and the system use to guide our work;
  • Establishment of specific achievement targets for student achievement that are much higher than expectations at the state and federal levels;
  • Establishment of specific indicators and standards for student performance against which all school and student performance will be measured;
  • A multi-year school improvement planning process that requires on-going monitoring, evaluation, and refinement;
  • An instructional focus on acceleration rather than remediation.

To differentiate support and resources for our lowest achieving schools, we created a School Improvement Unit (SIU) for nine elementary, four middle and three high schools. Based upon DuFour’s work in Professional Learning Communities at Work, professional learning communities (PLCs) were established in those schools connected together by a central PLC that included school administrators and central office staff.

To be successful, I recognized that we needed to establish trust and collegiality among central office staff (cross-department collaboration and alignment) and school principals, teachers, and students. Central office culture needed to change from “direct and tell” to “listen and respond.” The shift to a capacity building approach within schools focused on improving teaching and learning so that ultimately student performance was accelerated and sustained.

The SIU became the research and development arm of the school system because of its inherent design in identifying practices that could have wider application across the county. Principals and school improvement teams were given greater autonomy but were held to high standards of performance. Through monthly PLC meetings, SIU administrators and central office staff collaborated with each other to problem solve and share effective practices. Principal and assistant principal identified critical issues through candid conversations with the deputy superintendent and superintendent. I worked with central program staff to address the school leaders concerns and identify ways to respond to their needs.

For example, principals consistently expressed their frustration about not being able to attract and hire highly qualified and effective teachers for their schools. I invited the Director of Human Resources to attend one of the PLC meetings and listen to their concerns. Following the meeting, I negotiated a change in the teacher hiring practices so that SIU principals could interview the highly qualified teacher candidates before other schools. To provide principals with a hiring incentive, I created a “one to one” teacher laptop initiative for SIU schools. Additionally, the principals had the authority to accept or reject administrative teacher transfers from other schools.

A focus of the SIU Professional Learning Community for school leaders was to foster peer-to-peer learning. This extended to yearly progress evaluations. Each SIU principal and members of their school improvement team made a 15-minute presentation to their peers on the progress they had made in meeting their school improvement goals and objectives based on quantitative and qualitative data. This stimulated reflective practice and increased accountability for results.

Student, Parent, Family, and Community Engagement

In designing the SIU, we recognized the need to rethink parent involvement beyond attending PTA meetings and student conferences. The African proverb: "It takes a village to raise a child" became the fundamental principle upon which we began to think and act differently on how to engage parents and families with school and central office staff.

Organizationally, I created the Department of Student, Family, and Community Services to coordinate development and implementation of academic intervention and student services, design and implement a model for family and community outreach in all schools linked to school improvement efforts, and align and integrate delivery systems for student, family, and community support services. Supports included:

  • Providing a parent liaison for each SIU school to maximize the involvement of parents and the community.
  • Creating the Office of International Student Services to better serve our immigrant families and English language learners;
  • Hiring a Hispanic achievement specialist to work collaboratively with central programs and schools to achieve the school system’s goals for Hispanic students, and ensure they are college and career ready at the time of graduation;
  • Conducting quarterly SIU-PTA President Meetings that served to a) increase the level of understanding among parents whose children attended a school participating in the SIU; and b) identify strategies for engaging the broader parent community and defining their role in the SIU initiative;
  • Providing support for attendance at state conferences on family and community involvement for parents and school staff;
  • Adopting and implementing the Joyce Epstein Model (Johns Hopkins University) for family and community involvement.

Additionally, I submitted multiple grant applications for the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant and received funding to create the Bridges over Howard County, community learning centers that provide students at SIU schools with after-school academic enrichment opportunities as well as additional services designed to complement their regular academic program. Family literacy and related educational learning opportunities were provided to parents and families through these centers.

Within two years, all of the schools exited school improvement status as defined by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Overall we learned that we had to:

  • Establish strong entrance and exit criteria for schools that needed to be refined over time;
  • Reevaluate schools to make certain they are still a match for the initiative;
  • Continuously identify ways to eliminate duplication of efforts and enhance and expand services (including into non-SIU schools)
  • Assure that schools were adequately being served and were meeting their objectives and school system goals;
  • Identify practices and strategies that have potential for system-wide replication (research and development component);
  • Focus on improving initiative quality, participant outcomes, and implementation of best practices;
  • Build networks and relationships with central office, principals, teachers, parents, and community members;
  • Maintain staff motivation to accelerate student achievement;
  • Promote continuous professional growth for all staff.

The School Improvement Unit built capacity of school personnel to function as a professional learning community—one that is collaborative, takes a collective inquiry approach to student achievement and strives to implement the best practices and continuously improves them.

Successful implementation of school turnaround requires willingness to examine instructional, organizational, professional development, and operational practices for inefficiencies and willingness to engage in honest and open discussion about how to improve them. It requires involvement of school-based staff, central office staff, and parents, families and the community. The key is that everyone accepts responsibility for eliminating the achievement gaps.

The School Improvement Unit focused the system and its schools on accelerating achievement for each one of our students, even when it means doing things differently than they have been done in the past. It was action research —and promised an opportunity for replicating best practices across the system in an efficient and effective manner.

The next blog post will focus on the development and implementation of a statewide system of support at a state education agency.

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About the author

Robert Glascock

Robert Glascock's role in the Center on School Turnaround is to help facilitate the Network of School Turnaround and Improvement Leaders.  He works directly with the NSTIL Leadership Council comprised of SEA turnaround leaders and representatives from various Regional Comprehensive Centers.  Through peer-to-peer activities,  the goal is to build capacity of SEA turnaround leadership to develop and implement systemic and sustainable policies and practices that result in increased student achievement in identified turnaround schools.

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