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

Turning Around Low-Performing Schools: A Guide for State and Local Leaders (May 1998)

Checklist for Improvement

The following suggestions, based on research and the experiences of successful turnaround schools, are relevant for various partners working together to ensure that all students attend high-performing schools:

Suggestions for State and Local Leaders

  1. Give school officials sufficient authority to act quickly, decisively, and creatively to improve schools--and then hold them accountable for results.

  2. Support schools that are working to fundamentally change and improve. Consider instituting a reward system for schools that improve performance. Give them extra resources, support, recognition, and assistance whenever possible.

  3. Take extra steps to recruit, support, reward, and train outstanding principals and teachers and send them to schools in difficulty. Use experienced, recognized teachers as mentors to beginning teachers.

  4. Provide quick but fair ways to take bold action to address chronically troubled schools. Provide concrete means to convert a school to a new design, reconstitute it, or start it over as a charter school.

  5. Establish a state or districtwide data collection system that allows the evaluation of student and school progress across a set of expected standards of performance.

  6. Evaluate student performance to make sure that all students are making progress toward high standards of excellence and are given opportunities to succeed. Then end social promotion. At the same time, recognize that school transformation is a steady process and results do not always appear immediately.

  7. Give parents the opportunity to choose among public schools and choose the full set of core courses needed for their children to prepare for college and careers.

  8. Consider creating a more personalized education setting in high schools by establishing smaller units, such as grade-level or across-grade "families," several charter schools, schools within a school, or career academies.

  9. Ensure that no student or group of students is left out of improvement efforts. Disadvantaged students need extra attention to make sure they are receiving the same opportunities as other children. This requires focused, high-quality instruction during the regular school day and extra help and time after school and during the summer.

  10. Work with employers, teachers, principals, and religious and community groups to encourage greater family and community involvement in the school, after school, in the community, and at home.

  11. If a principal is slow to get the message, find strength in a new leader with experience in similar schools.

  12. If teachers are burned out or not engaged in the needed improvements, counsel them to improve or leave the profession. Create mechanisms to allow those who do not agree with the reform to leave.

Suggestions for School Leaders -- Principals, Lead Teachers, and Parent Leaders

  1. Create an orderly, disciplined environment. Students will do well and teachers will improve their teaching if they are in a safe, supportive culture of learning with firm, fair rules of discipline.

  2. Recruit and hire the best teachers and principals. Provide high-quality professional development to keep them at your school and continuously improve their knowledge and skills.

  3. Be open to fundamental change. Build a team to put a relentless focus on improving instruction and achieving high academic standards. Go the extra mile--school leaders set the tone for the whole school.

  4. Identify needs based on achievement results and group input. Analyze student achievement results at the student and classroom level. Examine the school's budget, looking for what percent is dedicated to improving teaching and learning in the classroom.

  5. Search out and visit research-based designs as a guide to choosing reforms. Send teachers to conferences, training, and other schools to consider proven designs. Successful designs or models have been used in schools across the country. A number of these designs can be adapted to your school's needs. The whole school community should agree on the design for your school.

  6. Work with top district administrators and staff as well as teachers, parents, and school staff to set concrete goals tied to high standards for student and school achievement. Choose an improvement strategy that targets the student needs revealed by your data analysis. Make the goals real by continuously monitoring progress toward them. If progress is slow or nonexistent, reassess what needs to improve in the school and make the necessary changes.

  7. Concentrate professional development on improving teaching. Focus professional development on enhancing teachers' knowledge of their subject matter and their skills for engaging students in learning. Allow teachers to identify professional development needs for the school, and include time for professional development in the regular school schedule; staff development is not an extra-curricular activity.

  8. Reach out to parents and family members. Listen to parents' concerns to find out what worries them most for their children. Train teachers and other school staff to work with families. Use new technologies--voice mail systems, homework hot lines, and the Internet--to link parents to the classroom. Make special accommodations to reach parents whose first language is not English. Call 1-800-USA-LEARN for a copy of New Skills for New Schools, a text on how to help teachers involve families in children's learning.

  9. Include all staff in the process of change; create a team. School improvements will work only if teachers commit to fundamental change. Everyone--including administrative, custodial, and lunch staff--can help create a positive learning environment. Call a meeting of teachers, administrators, staff, parents, and other partners to establish a focus for improvement.

  10. Make collaborative planning time available. Incorporate into the regular schedule time for teachers to plan, discuss, and set goals together.

  11. Plan instructional time to meet student needs. Many schools have increased family support and education by offering safe havens for students before and after school, providing learning and enrichment programs for children that build on their regular school program, offering course work and social activities for adults in the evenings and on weekends, and instituting block scheduling. Call 1-800-USA-LEARN for a copy of Keeping Schools Open As Community Learning Centers.

  12. Develop partnerships with businesses, civic groups, and institutions of higher education. These connections can provide monetary and material resources, volunteer time, and expertise about school reform and education research.

  13. Reach out for assistance. Look in the resource directory at the end of this guide for information on resources that can help turn around schools. Contact one of the many experienced organizations that are also listed in this guide. Explore research-based approaches to see if they meet your school's needs. Ask other schools working on reforms nearby for assistance and advice. Bring in a facilitator to help assess your needs and identify academic areas in greatest need of improvement.

  14. Learn about charter schools and school reconstitution. Invite successful charter school developers to explain how they got organized and started. Visit the website devoted to charter schools, <http://www.uscharterschools.org>. Some schools have to start completely over to have a chance at success.

  15. Continuously assess progress toward goals by including evaluation in your school improvement plan. This will give positive reinforcement to students, staff, and the community by showing how far the school has come. It will also illuminate areas needing greater attention. Continuous evaluation provides an opportunity for everyone to reflect on the change process and make suggestions about ways to refine and improve it. Call 1-800-USA-LEARN for a copy of A Compact for Learning: An Action Handbook for Family-School-Community Partnerships.

Suggestions for Families, Businesses, and Community Organizations

  1. Get involved with the school. Support needed changes and improvements. Make your voice heard. Work with the principal and teachers to make the school the best learning environment for children. If order and discipline need to be instilled, help by reinforcing school rules at home. Volunteer to monitor school halls and playgrounds.

  2. Compare your school with similar schools that are successful. There is much to learn from a partnership with schools that are being turned around or have an accelerated rate of improvement.

  3. Support your principal and teachers and other staff who are making fundamental changes to turn your school around. Principals and teachers need encouragement from parents and the community to know they are heading in the right direction.

  4. Encourage schools to help all children reach high standards for learning. If you see that some children are not being challenged, talk to their teachers, the principal, or the district staff. The curriculum, student assessments, teaching, and homework should all be focused on high academic standards.

  5. Instill in children the values they need to progress in school and throughout life. Work to build good character and citizenship skills to help improve school discipline and student achievement. Many children need extra help, tutoring, and mentoring after school and during the summer. Help start and expand after-school programs to provide a safe environment (e.g., bring in and join other community and youth groups).

  6. Demonstrate that education is important. If you are a parent, ask to see your child's homework and take an active interest in what he or she is learning at school. If you represent a business, ask to see students' transcripts before you hire them. If you represent a community organization, recognize students who reach high achievement levels and reward teachers and principals who go the extra mile. Develop school-college partnerships to link middle school and high school students with college.

  7. Offer professional development opportunities for teachers through summer internships in businesses that focus on their subject matter. Technical firms can offer placement in work that hones teachers' math and science knowledge. Businesses and colleges can help with team building and strategic planning.

  8. Become a member of the Partnership for Family Involvement in Education. Call 1-800-USA-LEARN for a free information packet on how to join 4,000 family, school, community, cultural, and religious organizations and businesses that are committed to increasing family and community involvement in education.

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