Our District and School services include supports for districts and direct support to individual schools. The intensity and focus of our support is determined in collaboration with clients, to jointly determine activities, outcomes, and whether the work is focused on Turnaround (dramatic and accelerated improvement) or Improvement (typically less intensive, but still focused on rapid improvement and capacity building). As a small business, our fees are competitive and typically less than major service providers; we take on a select number of clients each year to ensure that our our leadership plays a significant role in each engagement.
Our approach is is based upon a set of research- and practice-based Turnaround Practices for schools and for districts, recognizing the dual importance of district systems and attending to classroom practice. The following provides a description of our strands of work and research.
One or multiple Design Sessions are held with district and school leaders, to develop a "map" of the current system of supports, identify existing challenges and assets, and to explore and design a working theory of action that will guide improvement efforts.
After understanding the system (during the design phase), we often conduct needs assessments, site visits, and root cause analyses to develop a shared set of improvement strategies for moving forward. These strategies are articulated in a strategic plan with core objectives, strategies, actions, and benchmarks for monitoring progress.
Supporting implementation is crucial. As districts and schools engage in improvement or turnaround efforts, we convene quarterly Strategy Sessions that provide an opportunity for district and school leaders to reflect upon their work (using data and their own experience) and adjust their actions. Each session includes formal analysis of data, conversation, and identification of next steps. Sessions are carefully documented to directly inform actions and track progress over time.
Often, we incorporate networking activities among districts and among schools engaged in improvement efforts, especially when schools may be working on a common problem of practice or set of common initiatives. Improvement Science practices are incorporated into network activities, to systematically test whether improvement efforts are working and to ensure the spread of effective practices.
How can districts initiate, support, and sustain rapid improvement?
Recent studies of district improvement and turnaround provide the key characteristics of improving districts (Sykes et al., 2009) and the strategies used by effective district leaders (Waters and Marzano, 2006). Various district improvement frameworks, both academic (Rorrer et al., 2008) and action-oriented (Childress et al., 2006; Connell, 2000; Marsh, 2005), are beginning to show how, when strategically implemented, district improvement strategies can together to initiate and sustain rapid improvements in district capacity, instructional quality, and student performance.
The core of our work involves the integration of research on district improvement into actionable tools, guidance, and principles as used by states, districts, and schools. While recent research on district improvement tells us much about the characteristics of improving districts, it does not provide much guidance on how districts actually initiate and sustain rapid improvement.
To address this gap, we developed and use a Framework for District Capacity Building and Improvement. Initially developed in partnership with the National Center on Innovation and Improvement, the Framework advances ongoing work around district improvement by clarifying relationships among the core functions of a district, the capacity of a district to leverage its core functions to focus exclusively on improving all aspects of the district, including instruction, and those key drivers(e.g., triggers, events, incentives, opportunities, and a threshold of capacity) that must be present if a district is to embark on the path towards rapid improvement. The Framework builds directly upon a review of the research on district improvement and incorporates our current research on Turnaround Practices for Effective School Turnaround.
Shared Resources from INSTLL
The five studies used extensively to inform the Framework for District Capacity Building and Improvement include:
Leithwood, et al. (2004). Review of research: How leadership influences student learning.
Marsh, J. et al. (2005). The Role of Districts in Fostering Instructional Improvement: Lessons from Three Urban Districts
McLaughlin, M. & Talbert, J. (2003). Reforming Districts: How Districts Support School Reform. A Research Report.
Snipes, et al. (2002). Foundations for Success: Case Studies of How Urban School Systems Improve Student Achievement.
Rorrer, A., Skrla, L, & Scheurich, J. (2008). Districts as institutional actors in educational reform.
Connell, J. P., & Klem, A. M. (2000). You Can There From Here: Using a Theory of Change Approach to Plan Urban Education Reform. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 11(1), 93-120.
Childress, S., Elmore, R., and Grossman, A. (2006). How to manage urban school districts. Harvard Business Review, 84(11), 55-68.
Marsh, J., Kerr, K. A., Ikemoto, G. S., Darilek, H., Suttorp, M., Zimmere, R. W., Barney, H. (2005). The Role of Districts in Fostering Instructional Improvement: Lessons from Three Urban Districts Partnered with the Institute for Learning. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.
Rorrer, A., Skrla, L, & Scheurich, J. (2008). Districts as institutional actors in educational reform. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(3), 307-358.
Sykes, G., O’Day, J., & Ford, T. G. (2009). The District Role in Instructional Improvement. In Handbook of Education on Policy Research, New York: Routledge.
Waters, J. T., & Marzano, R. J. (2006). School District Leadership that Works: The Effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement, A Working Paper. Denver, CO: MCREL
How can schools initiate, support, and sustain rapid improvement?
The ability of individual schools - their leaders, teachers, and students - to work together effectively depends on district capacity, district supports, and local, or school-based capacity. Districts must ensure that the conditions are in place for schools to be successful. At the school-level, three elements are paramount: (1) effective and engaged school leadership; (2) capable, engaged, and skilled teachers and support staff; and (3) a well-constructed core curriculum, units and lessons, and assessments. While additional features characterize effective schools (e.g., trusting relationships among adults, engaged parents, engaged students, non-academic supports and enrichment activities); we see these features as dependent on leadership and teachers working together collaboratively to proactively meet the needs of students and families.
Paralleling the three elements listed above (leadership, skilled teachers, and core curriculum and assessments) is a growing body of research on HOW schools engage in rapid improvement, or turnaround, and accelerate learning for all students. These "Turnaround Practices" provide a detailed road map for how districts and schools can move forward, especially schools with high populations of low income students and that may be disproportionately African-American or Hispanic.
We use these Turnaround Practices for Accelerated School Improvement as our framework for all school-based improvement activities. The practices (listed in brief below) include a set of components and detailed indicators, and are based on 5 years of research and practice in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Turnaround Practices for Accelerated Improvement
Turnaround Practice #1: Leadership, Shared Responsibility, and Professional Collaboration.
The school has established a community of practice through leadership, shared responsibility, and professional collaboration
Turnaround Practice 2: Intentional Practices for Improving Instruction
The school employs intentional practices for improving teacher-specific and student-responsive instruction
Turnaround Practice 3: Providing Student-Specific Supports and Instruction to All Students
The school is able to provide student-specific supports and interventions informed by data and the identification of student-specific needs
Turnaround Practice 4: School Climate and Culture
The School has established a climate and culture that provides a safe, orderly and respectful environment for students and a collegial, collaborative, and professional culture among teachers that supports the school’s focus on increasing student achievement.
We offer the following services and supports that supplement our core support activities (Design, Planning, and Networking). Each service is customized and typically includes a written report and follow-up activities.