Panel Paper: The Next Generation of School Reform: Improving the Lowest Performing Schools without Disrupting the Status Quo

Thursday, November 8, 2018
8206 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Gary T. Henry and Erica Harbatkin, Vanderbilt University

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states with expanded discretion in determining how to support and turn around their lowest performing schools. A core difference between school turnaround under ESSA and its predecessor, Race to the Top (RttT), is that ESSA does not require disruption of the status quo, such as principal and staff replacement, changes in governance, or school closure. In the years between RttT and implementation of ESSA, North Carolina revived its longstanding school reform efforts in 75 of the state’s lowest performing schools, following procedures aligned with ESSA requirements. The intervention did not include a disruption of the status quo or efforts to recruit and retain high quality teachers, and instead focused on building the capacity of existing school staff. Using a regression discontinuity design, we find that the intervention produced negative effects on student achievement and increased teacher turnover after two years of implementation. While the increased teacher turnover in NCT schools in 2017 points to the possibility of a purposeful disruption, we find that replacing teachers were lower quality, on average, than exiting teachers—suggesting that teacher turnover was instead a continuation of prior turnover patterns. These findings provide a cautionary tale for states finalizing their plans for serving low-performing schools under ESSA, suggesting that turnaround without disruption of the status quo has the potential to hinder student achievement and increase unintentional teacher turnover.