Partnership Zone Plans : More of the Same

January 25th, 2012

Category: News

The Delaware Department of Education approved plans at five of six second round Partnership Zone schools (Laurel Middle’s plan is due in February), which will wrap up the state’s Race to the Top commitment to turnaround ten persistently low-performing schools.

Although the plans represent significant effort on the part of all stakeholders to come together and negotiate a path forward for these schools, they seem to focus on incremental gains without an overarching, clear, and coherent vision for these schools – and a willingness to fundamentally change conditions for schools that we know need more than a “light touch.”

Instead, they feel like a mash up of various, and potentially conflicting, initiatives, which frustrates all involved and leads to the disenchantment and fatigue already felt by many.  However, scanning the plans, there are components that leave me optimistic about the possibility of these to produce positive results for kids:

  • Incorporating Technology: While I question the use of these funds to purchase necessary hardware, it’s heartening to see schools explicitly state the potential of technology to help students through such innovative programs as Dreambox at Marbrook Elementary;
  • Extended Learning Time: A couple schools are adding a fairly significant chunk of time onto the school day and year in order to catch students up on essential ELA and math skills, such as at Stanton Middle; and
  • Family and Community Engagement: Schools are strengthening or adding on to the initiatives laid out in their Race to the Top plans, such as family home visits by teachers before the start of school at Dover High.

This is a stark contrast to other turnaround efforts across the country, such as Houston’s Apollo 20 program, which has five tenets guiding their efforts, including effective teachers and leaders, extended learning time, high-dosage tutoring, data-driven instruction, and a culture of high expectations for all students.  This program, in its second year of implementation, has yielded significant initial results for their students.

The ESEA flexibility process provides an opportunity to strengthen the state framework around low-performing schools, and not just the bottom ten. Other states have taken advantage of this opportunity to change the policy context, funding conditions, and incentives for low-performing schools. Delaware’s waiver is due February 6th.

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Brett Turner



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