Panel: School Turnaround

Thursday, November 8, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
8206 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Martez Hill, Consultant
Discussants:  Katharine Strunk, Michigan State University and Min Sun, University of Washington

The Effects of School Turnaround Strategies in Massachusetts
John Papay and Molly Hannon, Brown University

U.S. Public Opinion on Improving Low-Performing Schools
Beth Schueler and Martin West, Harvard University

A 22-state study of School Improvement Grants (SIG) under Race to the Top (RTTT) found no effect of SIG grants on student outcomes—a finding the authors suggested stemmed from a failure to implement SIG-promoted practices (Dragoset et al., 2017). However, empirical evidence showing positive effects of SIG-funded and other school and district turnaround interventions has begun to emerge (Papay, 2015; Schueler, Goodman, & Deming, 2017; Strunk, Marsh, Hashim, Bush-Mecenas, & Weinstein, 2016; Sun, Penner, & Loeb, 2017; Zimmer, Henry, & Kho, 2017). These conflicting findings motivate the need to better understand the mechanisms underlying successful school turnaround and the barriers to success. The four papers on this panel attempt to get inside the black box of school turnaround to build a better understanding of both the practices and structures that need to be in place for successful school turnaround. They do so using a diversity of study contexts, methodological approaches, and data.

The first two papers evaluate the effectiveness of state turnaround interventions—over four years of a  SIG-funded turnaround effort in Massachusetts and 1.5 years of a post-RTTT intervention in North Carolina. Schools in Massachusetts made large gains in student achievement, while the North Carolina intervention yielded partially negative and partially null effects on student achievement after the first three semesters of the intervention. The authors of the Massachusetts study examine the policies, investments, and changes that contributed to the large student achievement gains. The authors of the North Carolina study test potential suppressors of school improvement that the North Carolina theory of action may not have adequately addressed. Both studies use rigorous quantitative methods to estimate direct and indirect causal effects of these interventions.

The third paper employs a case study approach to probe the mechanisms that propelled school improvement in a district turnaround initiative. Through document analysis and interviews with district and school leaders, the study provides a window into the role of district leadership in successful school turnaround.

Finally, the fourth paper takes a high-level view of school turnaround policy by exploring national public opinion of school turnaround and state takeover of low-performing districts. Case study research suggests that political support for school reform can be helpful in supporting successful turnaround efforts (Jochim, 2013; Stone, Henig, Jones & Pierannunzi, 2001) and the durability of those efforts (Patashnik, 2003). By providing evidence on national views around turnaround and takeover policies, this study can speak to the success and sustainability of reforms moving forward.

Together, the papers on this panel build on emerging evidence around school improvement by digging into the mechanisms behind successful reforms and the challenges to successful school turnaround.

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