Transformation – Let’s Do the Same Thing, But Better?

November 23rd, 2011

Category: News

November 17 was the deadline for five of the six new Partnership Zone schools to submit draft plans detailing how they are going to improve student achievement.  (Laurel Middle School, due to its late identification, has a modified timeline). Here is what we were able to gather about these plans from recent school board meetings (for more background on the PZ, check the website and read our earlier blogs):

  • Christina adopted the transformation model for Bancroft Elementary, joining all of the Red Clay and Capital schools. Superintendent Marcia Lyles introduced a “school change leader” position (repurposed from a different Race to the Top position) to help manage and coordinate the efforts of Christina’s lowest-performing schools (including Bayard Middle in addition to the Round 1 and 2 PZ schools).  This position will be voted on in December, along with the plan itself (we’ll know more about the possible K-8 expansion and art academies then).
  • Red Clay approved the transformation model for both of their schools in October. Lewis and Marbrook, both elementary schools with large English Language Learner (ELL) populations, are proposing to adopt the SIOP model as well as a number of other instructional techniques focused on improving the achievement of ELL students. Marbrook is also reconfiguring its schedule to allow more time for instruction and adding technology coursework to its curriculum. Lewis, meanwhile, plans to extend the school year and expand after-school programs.  Like Marbrook, the school will also revise its daily schedule to provide more instructional time in math and reading. Finally Stanton Middle School is proposing a block schedule with an increased focus on math and ELA, with extended learning opportunities during the school year and summer for targeted students. The presentation has more details. Red Clay is considering creating an internal unit to manage current and future turnaround efforts.
  • Capital also approved the transformation model in October. Presenters didn’t mention specifics, instead noting that a lot of planning and work had already been done and that staff had visited several other sites to observe best practices. There has been talk of adopting an “academies” model for Dover High (possibly similar to what Glasgow has).

It’s good to see Christina and Red Clay addressing the need to build internal capacity for this difficult work, understanding it is an ongoing process likely to undergo several iterations. Christina’s board has already talked about the value of the planning process and the potential of engaging all of its schools in a modified version.

On the other hand, I wonder if this is enough to turn around these schools by 2014 (the deadline for schools to meet AYP). Many of the proposed changes are good and should be done, but they seem to be more of the “let’s do what we’ve been doing, but better.”  The purpose of Race to the Top money was to provide gap funding for the expensive and intensive work of turning persistently underachieving schools into self-sustaining, high achieving schools—models of what could be possible given strong leadership and support. It remains to be seen if these plans will address these goals sufficiently, which raises concerns, both in terms of effectiveness and sustainability.


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Brian Yin