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Vol. 2, No. 4
WelcomeREL Midwest is one of 10 regional educational laboratories funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and is administered by American Institutes for Research (AIR). Each edition of REL Midwest’s Research Update brings you news of how our scope of work is unfolding in your state and across the region, and offers information about resources available from the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Program and other research and technical assistance providers. This month, we discuss school improvement. School improvement is a critical issue for many states, and, as the following articles suggest, is often at the forefront of new education research and practice. IN THIS ISSUE Featured Topic
News, Events, and Activities
Learn about people, organizations, and issues in the region.
Resources to Explore
Featured TopicNew Developments in School Improvement: District Leadership
Policymakers and education practitioners have long called for the need to improve the nation’s most underperforming schools. Although this call for school improvement has remained consistent, the conversation about school improvement as a matter of policy and practice has undergone considerable change in recent years. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act under the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 and the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 have provided states and local education stakeholders both the challenge of ensuring their students are making adequate yearly progress as well as the chance to improve student outcomes through flexible policy waivers and large increases in federal funding. At the same time, education practitioners have been developing and implementing new strategies for the school and the classroom with the goal of improving student performance. Practitioners often rely on the work of education researchers, such as those at REL Midwest, to identify evidence-based best practices for school improvement.
As the conversation over school improvement policy and practice changes, one evidence-based best practice is receiving increased attention in the last few years in light of new research. Practitioners know the importance of strong school leaders in improving schools, and research has shown that these leaders, especially principals, can be critical to the school improvement process ( Herman et al., 2008; Kowal & Hassel, 2005 ). Strong leaders can set — and rally staff members around — a coherent set of measureable goals. They can manage a break from the status quo and provide a vision for school improvement that inspires not only teachers and students but the community as a whole.
Strong leadership, in short, is important. But recent research suggests that its importance may go beyond the schoolyard. Researchers are now highlighting the role that strong leaders at the district level are playing in the improvement of student outcomes at the school level (Zavadsky, 2012).
A study of more than 200 school district superintendents published last month found a statistically significant relationship between superintendent levels of leadership authenticity and their districts’ use of best practices in the school improvement process (Bird, Dunaway, Hancock, & Wang, 2013 ). Like school principals, strong district superintendents are providing a coherent set of “baseline” goals for schools. But, in many instances, they are doing so to encourage multiple approaches to school improvement in their districts, rather than dictating a single set of practices that all schools must follow (Anderson, Mascall, Stiegelbauer, & Park, 2012 ). These district leaders are serving as “catalysts” for school change — setting the goals for school improvement and then supporting principals and other school-level leaders in devising the means to achieving those goals (Hollingworth, 2012).
Researchers are not alone. Last month, the Obama administration requested an additional $125 million in competitive grants to help expand district capacity to support school improvement efforts. It is not clear what — if any — additional funding will be made available to districts for school improvement efforts. However, the request itself is further acknowledgement by the education community that districts and their leaders have a potentially crucial role to play in helping low-performing schools.
The research on school improvement and school or district leadership is promising, but also limited. More research is needed to identify how and why leadership is an important factor in helping schools improve student outcomes, and more evidence is needed to support the best research-based practices for school improvement. REL Midwest is actively engaged in research on school improvement through two of our research alliances. In Michigan, the Beating the Odds Research Alliance is working to identify the factors that contribute to some schools performing better than other schools with similar characteristics. In Iowa, the Leadership for School Improvement Alliance is working with stakeholders to design and implement evidence-based school leadership programs and policies in an attempt to encourage active leadership as well as data-informed professional development. As work on school improvement continues, REL Midwest is available to support informed decisions in policy and practice through rigorous, evidence-based education research.
From Policy to Practice: School Improvement in Ohio
As school improvement continues to be a topic of national, state, and local conversations on reform, Midwestern states and districts are seeking to identify persistently struggling schools and improve their practices and outcomes. In Ohio, turning around low-performing schools has become a priority area at the state level as it seeks to implement federal education initiatives, including the School Improvement Grant and Race to the Top programs. At the local level, districts have worked with state education officials to develop detailed plans outlining how to change the operation of their schools in a top-to-bottom school reform approach that has garnered national attention.
To highlight and discuss the work being done in Ohio, REL Midwest and WVIZ Cleveland held the latest event in REL Midwest’s Making Connections series: “Using Research-Based Strategies for School Improvement in Ohio.” Featuring research expert Sam Stringfield, Ph.D., (University of Cincinnati) as well as Jessica Johnson (American Institutes for Research), Pamela VanHorn (Ohio Department of Education), Elaine Lawless (principal, North Franklin Elementary), and moderator Susan Therriault, Ed.D., (American Institutes for Research), the television panel discussed a number of important themes related to successful school improvement strategies.
Data, and its proper collection and use, was an important element of successful school improvement according to the panel. Schools are often “swimming in data,” noted Johnson, with the challenge being how to use available data to improve student outcomes. On a state level, the Ohio Improvement Process leverages data to improve student outcomes by addressing the achievement gap among some subgroups of students. On a school level, Principal Lawless highlighted how student performance data collected in a continuous manner throughout the school year was a valuable resource for teachers seeking to change instruction based on student understanding.
Professor Stringfield led a discussion on the importance of setting achievable goals for school improvement, stressing the need to work toward a handful of goals that can be easily prioritized. School improvement often requires a related vision or focus, sustained by a committed and engaged staff. Ohio has worked to support this strategy by helping districts and schools create leadership teams while experts, such as Johnson, work with all school stakeholders to help identify challenges and ways to address these challenges to improving student outcomes.
The hourlong event also included discussion about the federal role in Ohio’s school improvement process as well as the importance of multiple stakeholders — including parents — in the school improvement process.
News, Events, and Activities
- REL Midwest, along with its Rural and Virtual Education Research Alliances, is hosting a Making Connections event on the topic of online professional development for rural educators. Participants will have an opportunity to interact with nationally renowned researchers and practitioners on this important topic. We invite you to join us from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. Central Time, on Wednesday, May 22, 2013, for our webinar. The event will feature Chris Haskell, Ed.D. (Department of Educational Technology, Boise State University). Dr. Haskell will share his research on game-based learning and discuss how “gaming” may provide new approaches and opportunities for the professional development of rural educators. The event also will feature presentations from Professor Simone White, Ed.D. (School of Education, Monash University), on Australia’s approach to the online professional development of rural educators as well as Evan Abbey (Heartland Area Education Agency) on the current strategies for online professional development being implemented in rural Iowa. Participants will have an opportunity to reflect on the presentations and talk about the approaches they can implement in their school or district.
- Take time to visit REL Midwest’s event archive and view “Building Principals’ Capacity to Coach Professional Learning Teams.” Matthew Clifford, Ph.D., principal researcher at AIR, discussed principal professional development and strategies for increasing administrator capacity to support collaborative efforts among their staff members. A panel of experts also discussed efforts to provide inservice principals with executive coaching support.
- While you’re visiting the event archive, view REL Midwest’s recent webinar “Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance of Adolescents.” Jenny Nagaoka and Camille Farrington, Ph.D., from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research discussed the research as presented in their paper, Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance, and local practitioners reported on their efforts to develop students’ noncognitive skills in the classroom.
- REL Midwest welcomes Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard A. Ross, Ph.D., to its board of directors. Dr. Ross took office at a swearing-in ceremony on March 25, 2013. Prior to his selection as state superintendent, he had been leading Governor John Kasich’s Office of 21st Century Education.
Resources to Explore
- The U.S. Department of Education’s School Turnaround Learning Community website “offers resources, training, and discussion tools that enable users to share school turnaround practices and lessons learned, and facilitate networking to support schools more effectively.”
- Find school improvement and turnaround resources specific to your state here:
- Illinois: http://www.isbe.net/sos/htmls/school.htm
- Indiana: http://www.doe.in.gov/improvement/turnaround
- Iowa: http://www.educateiowa.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1558&Itemid=2342
- Michigan: http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-28753_
- Minnesota: http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/SchSup/TurnSch/index.html
- Ohio: http://education.ohio.gov/GD/Templates/Pages/ODE/
- Wisconsin: http://winss.dpi.wi.gov/winss_improvement_index
- The U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grants help state education agencies fund local improvement efforts. The Handbook on Effective Implementation of School Improvement Grants can be found on the ED.gov website.
- Turning Around Chronically Low-Performing Schools is a 2008 IES practice guide aimed “to formulate specific and coherent evidence-based recommendations for use by educators aiming to quickly and dramatically improve student achievement in low-performing schools.”
- Follow REL Midwest on Twitter.
- Ask a REL is a collaborative reference desk service designed to function in much the same way as a technical reference library. Following established search protocols, our researchers provide timely responses to your questions in the form of referrals and references. Submit your question online today.
For more information about any of the items in this newsletter or to speak with a member of our staff, please contact us by telephone (866-730-6735) or e-mail (email@example.com). We look forward to hearing from you.
This material was prepared under Contract ED-IES-12-C-0004 by Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest, administered by American Institutes for Research. The content of the publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. This publication is in the public domain. Authorization to reproduce in whole or in part for educational purposes is granted.
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