Waiver Presents Opportunity to Reorient State’s Turnaround Strategy
After seeking input from various stakeholders throughout the state, the Department of Education will submit their final ESEA waiver application to the feds on February 6th, outlining our state’s vision for education reform in the coming years – with a particular focus on revamping our accountability system for school recognition and support.
Parts I and III of the waiver align nicely with efforts currently underway through Race to the Top around the Common Core and teacher and leader quality. However, under Part II, the application presents us an opportunity to step back, assess our current accountability strategy, and design a structure that makes sense for Delaware – with a particular focus on how to turnaround our “priority”, or PZ, and “focus” schools.
Analyzing approved PZ plans, one theme that emerges is the lack of a clear, consistent vision of what’s required for student success. More specifically, it feels like those responsible for their development are grasping for any and all things that could potentially help. This lack of coherence makes sense if you believe, as we do, that the current process yielded muddled plans geared towards doing the least intrusive, and least difficult, work necessary for success – which is to be expected based upon our vague regulatory guidance.
As Delaware finalizes our waiver application, we believe that there are specific actions the Department of Education should promote that would alleviate some of the problems experienced up to this point and put the Partnership Zone initiative on the right course for success. These include:
- Mandate districts
– that serve high concentrations of PZ and focus schools restructure in order to better serve these schools,
– implement at least 20%–or 300 hours–of increased learning time and
– require districts use a Lead Partner if they don’t pass muster in their capacity assessment.
- Utilize financial incentives to encourage this work by either withholding funds for weak plans or providing extra monies for ambitious initiatives.
- Hold the line on human capital – which research shows is the greatest in-school factor that impacts student learning (even in ways previously unknown). This would involve staffing schools based on effectiveness, ensuring mutual consent between the principal and teacher on fit, and requiring an “ineffective” teacher instruct no students.
- Specify, in detail, the school performance, conditions, and district capacity criteria necessary for schools to exit the Partnership Zone.
The Partnership Zone, a critical component of Delaware’s Race to the Top efforts, will no doubt see changes as the Department designs and develops a new statewide accountability system. Its overall success, however, hinges on whether or not we’re willing to take the bold steps necessary to drive dramatic student achievement gains in these schools.