A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

School Reform and Student Diversity - September 1995

8. State Support for the Exemplary Schools

State policies impacted each of the exemplary case study sites. New systems of accountability involving increased local autonomy affected some schools. State policies designed to decrease class size for LEP students and fund pre-kindergarten programs that targeted LEP students supported the education of LEP students. In addition, state programs supported schools as they took on the challenges of restructuring.

Finding #8.1 Special Programs Required for LEP Students. All states had a regulatory environment that mandated the development of programs for LEP students. State regulations included the use of teachers trained in language acquisition, instruction in students' primary language where there was a critical mass of LEP students, and consistent assessment of LEP student progress.

Each of the four states in which the exemplary schools were located required schools to develop special programs to address the needs of students with limited proficiency in English. Texas, for example, mandated bilingual instruction through 6th grade where there was a critical mass of same language LEP students at a grade level. Hollibrook Elementary was significantly affected by this law, as they have struggled to hire bilingual teachers to keep up with the growth of the LEP student population. The state mandate kept pressure on the school and district to recruit and retain bilingual teachers. Del Norte's bilingual language development program had a much longer history than Hollibrook's. The state provided the impetus for the development of Del Norte's bilingual program in 1974 when Texas began mandating bilingual instruction. In response to this mandate, Ysleta Independent School District began offering stipends to bilingual teachers; the district also paid for teachers to obtain bilingual credentials. Bilingual education was institutionalized at Del Norte and the school no longer received pressure from the state. Del Norte had two bilingual classrooms with certified bilingual teachers at each grade from kindergarten through 5th grade and one in 6th grade.

Inter-American remained unaffected by Illinois' requirements for LEP students (three years or less of bilingual instruction where there is a critical mass of same-language LEP students at a grade level) because their Developmental Bilingual program called for nine years (pre-kindergarten through 8th grade) of bilingual instruction. Massachusetts' policy on primary language education was similar to Illinois'. Massachusetts law required school districts with 20 or more LEP students with the same home language to offer a Transitional Bilingual Education program. These programs provided students with instruction in their primary language and English in all mandatory subjects. The state also required districts to submit an end-of-year report on the progress of LEP students. In this report, the district were asked to justify keeping an LEP student in a bilingual program for more than three years. The California regulations were similar to the laws in Texas, Illinois, and Massachusetts.1 They require that schools with 20 or more LEP students who speak the same language provide instruction either in those students' native language or in a specially designed instructional program in English. Further, the California regulations require that LEP students are taught by teachers who have training in English language development. All of the states required teachers who deliver bilingual or ESL instruction to have bilingual or ESL credentials.

Finding #8.2 Local Autonomy and Increased Accountability. Some states allowed districts and schools the flexibility to create programs that met the specific needs of their student populations by increasing local autonomy and accountability.

Exemplary schools in two states, Illinois and Texas, were impacted by new governance systems based on local autonomy and increased accountability. Texas implemented a major school reform bill that shifted school management to the district and school level and increased school accountability. The reform bill required schools to establish Campus Leadership Teams and to submit an annual Campus Improvement Plan. In return, the bill gave schools responsibility for their budget. Schools were then held accountable for student achievement as assessed by the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). Schools that scored below certain levels were placed on probation and sanctions were applied: the school had to accept technical assistance and be overseen by a state monitor. If the schools' TAAS scores did not improve, the principal and teachers would be dismissed. This provision had not yet been implemented, but it was causing much discussion and apprehension in the schools.

The new accountability system affected each of the three case study sites in Texas. At Del Norte, for example, staff enthusiastically embraced the shift to site-based management. The Campus Educational Improvement Council--made up of four parents, four teachers, and the principal--made budget and programmatic decisions relating to student achievement, including decisions on staffing, professional development, and schoolwide priorities. Because all budget decisions--with the exception of salary items--were made at the site level, teachers and other staff members were aware of the impact of expenditures. As a result of the increased autonomy, school staff understood the trade-offs and made decisions to maximize funding for the academic program.

Illinois had also developed a new school accountability system and had made significant progress towards implementing site-based management. The accountability system was school-based and required schools to meet designated outcome standards. Schools had to meet both state and local standards. The state annually administered an assessment of student performance in grades 3, 6, 8, and 10; students were assessed against grade level standards in writing, science, social studies, and mathematics. Schools also set goals for themselves and selected or developed appropriate assessment tools to complement the state assessment tools. This emphasis on outcomes marked a significant shift from Illinois' previous system based on inputs and compliance. Like Texas, Illinois required schools to develop school improvement plans identifying specific goals and outcomes. If schools exceeded their goals, they became eligible for waivers that released them from compliance with state regulations. If schools did not meet their goals, they were placed on the state's academic watch list. If poor performance continued, schools were subject to state takeover.

Inter-American was affected by additional state polices that specifically targeted Chicago. Because of the size of the district, the state mandated that each Chicago school be governed by a Local School Council composed of parents, community members, teachers, and the school principal. The eleven-member board was responsible for setting school policies, hiring and evaluating the principal, and interviewing candidates for teacher positions. The state had mandated that all categorical funding (e.g., Chapter I) be spent at the site level; the LSC controlled these funds, as well as other discretionary funds, and made decisions on expenditures.

Finding #8.3 Funding for Reduced Class Size and Pre-Kindergarten. Most states adopted policies to reduce class sizes at schools that are highly impacted by LEP students and to fund pre-kindergarten programs that give priority to LEP students.

The exemplary schools reduced class sizes for LEP students to allow for increased individualized instruction. The schools were also able offer pre-kindergarten programs for LEP students, giving students a critical extra year of school. Both of these strategies were made possible by state policies.

State policies relating to class size varied significantly from state to state. Texas mandated relatively small classes: the maximum student-teacher ratio in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade classrooms was 21 to one; it was 26 to one for 6th through 12th grade classrooms. At the other extreme was California where districts were penalized when average class sizes exceeded 30.

Some states had mechanisms to reduce class sizes at schools that were highly impacted by LEP students. Illinois assigned state-funded teachers to schools with significant LEP student populations to allow those schools to lower class size. Schools were eligible for a maximum of two teachers per language group. Inter-American had two state-funded bilingual teachers. In Massachusetts, Transitional Bilingual Education classes had a maximum student-teacher ratio of 18 to one. [The ratio was 25 to one in two instances: a) If an aide who speaks the students' native language was assigned to the class; or b) If a non-native aide was assigned to a class taught by a native-speaking teacher.] In multi-grade classes, as was the case at Graham and Parks, the maximum student-teacher ratio dropped to 15 to one. Graham and Parks' fifth through eighth grade Transitional Bilingual Education class had 23 students and two teachers.

Among the elementary grade exemplary schools, three of the four schools--Inter-American, Hollibrook, and Linda Vista--had state-funded pre-kindergarten programs. Illinois funded a large pre-kindergarten program for "children at risk of academic failure," including LEP students. Inter-American's pre-kindergarten classes were funded by this program. Texas also funded half-day pre-kindergarten programs in which LEP students were given priority when there was insufficient space to accommodate all children. Hollibrook had a state-funded pre-kindergarten.2 Finally, Linda Vista's pre-kindergarten program was funded by state funds that support early childhood programs for low-income students at school and community sites.

Finding #8.4 Support for School Restructuring. States made an effort to advance the development of innovations by providing frameworks for reform, extra time and opportunities for professional development, and grants to pilot innovations.

The exemplary schools were supported in their restructuring efforts by a number of statewide policies. For example, the exemplary middle schools were located in states that were promoting a shift toward a new "middle school concept." Both states, California and Texas, created networks through which schools shared information and both offered professional development. California developed a framework for restructuring elementary and middle schools. In support of a new approach to curriculum and instruction, California offered on-going "subject-matter projects" that provided professional development on the state-of-the-art in a given curricular area. Finally, California funded pilot programs to demonstrate the possibilities of school restructuring.

A Framework for Reform

The California Department of Education supported the implementation of a new concept of education for students at the middle grades. In 1987, the Superintendent for Public Instruction's Middle Grade Task Force published Caught in the Middle, a reform agenda for grades six, seven, and eight. To support the reform agenda, the state established networks of middle schools so that schools could confer with one another on implementation issues. The ideas in the state report formed an underlying structure for Hanshaw Middle School, with many of the important state design features incorporated into the school's structure. For example, the state model supports adherence to a common core of knowledge (the state's curriculum frameworks serve as the underpinnings of Hanshaw's curriculum), the division of schools into smaller organizational units or schools-within-schools such as the "houses" at Hanshaw, extended time blocks for core subject areas, the use of cooperative learning groups and active learning strategies, attention to the social development of adolescents, and the cultivation of cooperative relationships between the school and parents and community members.

Middle schools were a newer concept in Texas--Wiggs was the first middle school in El Paso when it opened in 1987. The Texas Education Agency created a middle school department in 1991, initiating the statewide dialogue on the middle school concept. The state sponsored workshops and created a Texas Middle School Network to raise the level of consciousness in the state regarding the concept of middle schools. Because Wiggs was one of the original middle schools in the state, it served as a model for other middle schools. Wiggs staff attended state and national conferences on issues relating to the implementation of effective strategies for middle grade students.

Professional Development Networks

California and Texas both sponsored professional development networks that impacted case study sites. California had developed an infrastructure of subject-matter projects, such as the California Writing Project and the California Mathematics Project. The Subject Matter Projects offered intensive, three-to-four week workshops that focused on current thinking in the field and classroom applications. These institutes were supported by one to two years of follow-up meetings that provided a continuing forum for the exchange of ideas about instructional strategies in a given curricular area. Teachers at Hanshaw, Horace Mann, and Linda Vista used strategies learned through these state-sponsored training projects.

At Wiggs, the Texas Mentor Schools Network had a significant impact. As a Mentor School, Wiggs served as a laboratory for other schools, especially those wanting to implement the new ideas relating to education at the middle grades. Wiggs staff trained teachers at other sites and participated in development activities and conferences sponsored by the Texas Mentor Schools Network. El Paso schools had six district staff development days and schools could decide how those days were used. Because Wiggs was a Mentor School, it received ten staff development days in addition to the six provided by the district.

Restructuring Grants

California had a unique mechanism that supported school reform. Senate Bill 1274, California's school restructuring legislation, supported schools through a number of activities, including direct grants. The grant process had two phases: first, schools competed for one-year Restructuring Planning Grants; second, they presented their plan in competition for four-year Restructuring Demonstration Grants. The grants were intended to support schools to become demonstrations of what is possible in a restructured school. Only about 100 schools in the state had Restructuring Demonstration Grants; two of those--Horace Mann and Linda Vista--were case study sites. Linda Vista used its Restructuring Demonstration Grant ($172,000 a year for four years) to improve the education of their LEP students through the implementation of innovative practices. More specifically, they used their grant money to develop a comprehensive assessment system. The grant supported release time for teachers to develop schoolwide language arts and mathematics standards, staff development activities on alternative assessment, and a part-time technical person who helped design and implement an electronic portfolio system. They also used their restructuring grant to provide training for teachers on uses of instructional technology and to purchase equipment. Finally, the 1274 grant supported their schoolwide priorities by financing extensive, ongoing staff development. Teachers were trained in committee process, student access, team teaching, cooperative learning, language acquisition, and bilingual teaching.

Horace Mann used its Restructuring Demonstration Grant to support professional development and teacher collaboration, to develop a plan to expand the school's health and social services, and to enhance the school's instructional technology program. The school used the grant ($119,000 a year for four years) to pay teacher stipends for time spent on joint planning and professional development. The grant supported an on-site training program that allowed teachers to become certified as Language Development Specialists. In addition, the grant supported a Social Services Coordinator who was responsible for conducting a needs assessment and developing a more extensive integrated services program for the school. Finally, the grant helped fund two well-equipped computer laboratories.

1 Though the Bilingual Education Act sunset in 1988, the California Department of Education had issued guidelines regarding the education of LEP students.

2 Hollibrook used federal Chapter I funds to extend their pre-kindergarten program to full-day.

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