Panel: State and District Reforms That Foster Positive Changes in Lowest-Performing Schools

Thursday, November 3, 2016: 8:15 AM-9:45 AM
Columbia 3 (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Min Sun, University of Washington
Panel Chairs:  Ron Zimmer, Vanderbilt University
Discussants:  Martez Hill (Invited), North Carolina State Board of Education and John Easton, Spencer Foundation

Recent federal education policy has promoted a variety of strategies to remedy underperforming schools across the country. Some of these reforms have been fairly prescriptive, providing rigid mandates for how states and districts should work to improve struggling schools. For example, Title I of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) funded some of this turn-around effort, typically prescribing dramatic restructuring in hopes of improving student achievement and attainment. Similarly, School Improvement Grants (SIG) highlighted a national focus on improving lowest-performing schools at scale through competitive incentives, substantial investment of financial and structural resources, and highly prescriptive school reform frameworks. Other policies have sought to encourage state- and district-led reform efforts. For example, Race to the Top (RTTT), a $4.35 billion competitive grant funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), was designed to spur and reward innovation and reforms in states and local districts. Beginning in 2012, NCLB waivers retreated from the prescriptive framework and gave states more power to design the substance of school-level interventions in their accountability systems. The newest reauthorization of ESEA—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—continues to prioritize turning around persistently lowest-performing schools on the nation’s education reform agenda. Under ESSA, states and districts have much more flexibility in using evidence-based school reforms. As states and districts make decisions about how to reform their struggling schools, it is all the more important to provide them with guidance for choosing and implementing effective interventions. Yet, researchers are just beginning to understand this variety of policy-initiated school reforms and their implementation. The papers in this panel include the latest large-scale studies on the impacts of these policy efforts in California, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. The first paper studies the creation of the Achievement School District (ASD) under RTTT in Tennessee and its governance structure. The second paper estimates three-year effects of SIG program impacts in one urban school district on multiple outcomes measures, including student achievement, absences, family preferences, and retention of effective teachers. The third paper utilizes a frontier regression-discontinuity (FRD) design to examine the focus school reforms under NCLB waivers in Kentucky. Last but not least, the fourth paper studies the turnaround efforts in North Carolina by contrasting the regression discontinuity and interrupted time series effect estimates. Together, these four papers add new, rigorous empirical evidence to the literature and practices of turning-around the lowest-performing schools and whole-school reform in general. Panel participants include both leading scholars and junior researchers from multiple institutions (University of Washington, University of California-Irvine, University of Chicago, Stanford, and Vanderbilt). We also invited a state policymaker to discuss our findings.

The Role of Governance in School Turnaround Policies: The Case of Tennessee's Achievement School District
Ron Zimmer1, Gary Henry2 and Adam Kho1, (1)Vanderbilt University, (2)University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Resource- and Approach-Driven Multi-Dimensional Change: Three-Year Effects of School Improvement Grants
Min Sun, University of Washington, Emily K. Penner, University of California, Irvine and Susanna Loeb, Stanford University

When the Late Ain't ATE: Investigating and Interpreting Differences in School Turnaround Effect Estimates
Gary Henry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and J. Edward Guthrie, Vanderbilt University

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