States, districts and technical assistance providers should consider whether schools need further assistance in developing benchmarks for measuring progress in implementing reform efforts and improvements in student achievement.
The CSRD program requires schools to develop benchmarks related to the implementation of their comprehensive reform programs. These benchmarks can help guide a school through the change process and are useful tools for states, districts, and technical assistance providers to understand a school's expectations and measure progress.
One school we visited has developed a regular progress plan which helps staff stay on track, and shows faculty how things are going. This regular return to the school's goals, expectations, and progress is helping to build and reinforce commitment to the reform effort. Another site has developed an observation tool for principals and teachers to use to see if real change is taking place in classroom practice in order to ensure that reform is not just an add-on but a replacement of old practices. The tool includes teacher questionnaires regarding the degree of implementation and classroom observation of changes in instructional approaches.
Leadership is an essential ingredient to school reform. In CSRD schools, the principal's understanding of the model and how it fits in with the broader vision for school change is crucial. Sustaining that vision and helping implement the necessary changes takes skill. Principals in the "CSRD in the Field" schools we visited this year are actively negotiating with external model developers and technical assistance providers, and are engaged in professional development, retreats, and other activities to build commitment to comprehensive change. These activities require a strong emphasis on the role of the principal as not only an administrator, but as an instructional leader.
States and districts can support the cultivation of good leaders. For example, in one district, where CSRD has been integrated into a broader effort to turn around low-performing schools, the district provides schools with a business manager to help allocate and monitor funds and generally oversee the administrative issues in the schools. This resource is available primarily to low-performing schools and is intended to free school principals' time and provide them with support so they can focus on being instructional leaders in their schools.
Stability of leadership is an ongoing challenge, both at the school and district level. One district we visited has had nine superintendents in the past eight years. This makes maintaining any reform efforts extraordinarily difficult. Yet, in another district, the school board and the principal agreed to a five year contract, assuring that the school's leadership will have the time necessary to fully implement and evaluate the comprehensive reform model.
Parent involvement in the education of children has long been understood to be an important predictor of academic success. Districts and schools play a key role in cultivating this involvement by reaching out to parents and other community partners, involving them in decision making about school reform, and inviting their active participation in their children's learning at school and in the home.
This is especially important when reform models require a new role for parents. For example, in one of the schools we visited, the reform model requires significant changes in the kind and amount of homework students are assigned. It became clear that parents would need more information about the purpose of the new work and how they could help their children. In response, the school invited parents to a detailed orientation where they could ask questions and learn about the model.
One school is implementing a model that requires parents to read to their child every night. The school reached out to parents through special programs to explain the model and the time commitment, as well as to provide suggestions on reading with children each night. Additionally, the school is attempting to make parents feel welcome at the school through another involvement program. This program encourages parents to walk their students to class, get a cup of coffee, and talk with the faculty.
At another site, parents were closely involved in the year-long model selection process for the school. Parents studied various models during the school year and one parent was able to attend a national conference related to school reform. Parents were invited to view videotapes on the models they found most appealing. The tapes helped illustrate the roles parents could play in supporting implementation of the reform model.
Resources on Family Involvement
U.S. Department of Education
Compact for Learning
Strong Families, Strong Schools
http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/Home.portal (search by title)
Partnership for Family Involvement
National Network of Partnership Schools
The schools we visited as part of this initiative expressed interest in networking with other schools involved with the same models and in the same process of implementing and sustaining whole school changes. Two of the model developers working with schools we visited have established networks of schools that teachers and school and district staff may tap. The network includes research, instructional information, professional development material, and other information related to the models. One model developer regularly brings together teachers from participating schools in the region not only for professional development but also to facilitate information exchange and create peer networks among the teachers.
States and districts can also be instrumental in making connections between schools. In one site, the district office took an active role in linking schools using the same model, including both schools that received and did not receive CSRD funding.
One rural school coordinates the dates of visits from their model facilitator with two other schools in the region implementing the same model in order to minimize travel expenses. The model provider has been very understanding of the schools' funding constraints, and has made every effort to make this arrangement work. In addition to the financial benefits, the schools have profited from the sharing of experiences and ideas fostered by this arrangement.
Resources on Schools Implementing CSRD
Southwest Educational Development Laboratory
Database of Schools Awarded CSRD Funds
WestEd Regional Laboratory
CSRD Interactive Community
As programs are implemented, states, districts and technical assistance providers should consider how to assist schools in determining what data to collect, how to analyze data and how to adjust reform efforts accordingly.
Several schools visited were actively collecting and using data. After analyzing the data, schools were attempting to adjust teaching priorities and resources. One school, for example, collects data on student achievement, discipline, attendance, and teaching experience. This data is disaggregated by gender, free and reduced lunch, and race. Teachers have written narratives in order to 'connect' with the data. By interpreting the data, teachers are able to prioritize issues and reach consensus about their improvement goals.
Another school maintains a portfolio of students' work from prekindergarten through fifth grade. Teachers assess a student's progress by reviewing the work maintained in the file, with a particular eye towards the level of risk-taking in the work. This school also asks for direct feedback from students. All third, fourth, and fifth graders are surveyed on their feelings about their progress in reading and math. The survey focuses on student concerns and teacher expectations. The data is then analyzed and the faculty develops strategies to strengthen weak areas.
One of the biggest challenges to sustaining a reform effort is incorporating and familiarizing faculty new to the school who are not well-versed in the efforts. One site visited is overcoming this obstacle by assigning a mentor to teachers new to the school. Arrangements have been made for these new teachers to visit a school further along in the implementation process of the same models so that they can gain a better understanding of what is envisioned at their school.
Another school schedules a forty-minute planning block each day for teachers new to the school. Each week new teachers spend one of these blocks with administrators and one with the school team. It is critical that new faculty, whether first-year teachers or experienced teachers, receive assistance and professional development so that they are comfortable with and supportive of the school's reform program.