This guest post comes from Kunjan Narechania, assistant superintendent of school improvement and CEO of the Louisiana Recovery School District. Narechania participated in Education Commission of the States’ Thinkers Meeting on school improvement, which culminated in this resource for policymakers.
State education agencies nationwide are beginning to re-envision the way they approach school improvement as part of their tailored plans to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act. Louisiana’s plan, like other state plans, asserts it is the responsibility of the local school system to develop and implement strategies that lead to improved results for all students. However, we also believe the state education department needs to play an active role in the strategy to improve these schools. The Louisiana Department of Education has provided school systems with clear parameters within which school improvement plans should be created, built accountability structures that keep districts focused on bettering individual campuses and has a plan to intervene if those local plans don’t work.
Louisiana is ahead of the federal requirement to enforce this provision of the law by 2019. We have spent the past 18 months laying the groundwork with local school systems. Specifically, we have:
- Provided guidance to school systems on promising, evidence-based strategies for school improvement. The School Redesign Rubric, on which the local ESSA plan is scored, focuses on strengthening core academics, expanding access to postsecondary pathways, attracting and retaining top teacher and principal talent and applying interventions for struggling groups of students. Every school system must build a plan centered on the aspects of this rubric that will best lead to improved results for their distinct students.
- Identified high-quality, nonprofit partners able to help school systems plan and implement each component of the rubric. These partners are varied in their expertise, including those that design and train teachers on curricula, those that build plans to attract and keep the best talent and those that provide direct counseling to students on their options after graduation. In the 2018-19 school year, 65 percent of districts will have partnered with one of these nonprofit partners.
- Created a competitive grant process based on the rubric and list of approved partners. The federal law requires states to dedicate 7 percent of their annual Title I dollars to spur school improvement efforts. Louisiana is using its federal dollars to run a competitive grant process that awards school systems with the most promising plans for turnaround. Plans that employ high-quality, nonprofit partners that are focused on strategies outlined within the rubric have a greater likelihood of being approved.
- Defined an escalating ladder of consequences for schools that don’t improve. Per recent legislation, schools identified as persistently struggling must hold public meetings and explain their improvement plans to parents and communities. If the school doesn’t improve within two years, the school system must present a revised improvement plan to the state board. The school will face escalating consequences, with the ultimate one being placement into the Recovery School District.
These efforts have been well-received by the state’s large urban and small rural school systems, and 62 of the 77 eligible school systems have an approved plan heading into the next school year. For these school systems, we will support implementation of improvement plans and monitor progress. School systems without an approved plan are closely working with the state to make adjustments before the start of the school year.
Persistently struggling schools don’t have to stay that way — regardless of location, demographic makeup or level of poverty. And their improvement must be a shared priority of both the local school system and the state.