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Message From the Alliance Lead
I joined the REL Midwest School Turnaround Research Alliance as the alliance lead in January 2015, after attending the Center on School Turnaround’s 2014 annual conference. During the conference, I met state education agency (SEA) representatives from across the country and learned about their strengths and challenges in turning around chronically underperforming schools.
REL Midwest’s School Turnaround Research Alliance is committed to building capacity among its SEA members to identify and address school turnaround challenges related to policy and practice through regional research, technical assistance, and stakeholder engagement projects. The School Turnaround Research Alliance’s work will inform the development of evidence-based tools, processes, and policies to help states, districts, and schools support school improvement efforts.
It has been a joy to engage and collaborate with SEA representatives from Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. My favorite part about serving as an alliance lead is creating a space for authentic thought partnership and regional collaboration. Building bridges and connecting people and their work has been a lifelong commitment. I am excited for the road ahead as the alliance revises its goal and identifies topics and research questions that will inform our work. — Taishya Adams
REL Midwest Transitions Alliance’s Focus From Beating the Odds to School Turnaround
In 2012, a group of state- and local-level Michigan stakeholders came together to determine how to identify previously low-performing public schools that were outperforming their peers—schools that were beating the odds. With support from REL Midwest, this group became the Beating the Odds Research Alliance. Over the next two years, the Beating the Odds Research Alliance worked with REL Midwest to analyze Michigan’s approach to identifying schools that outperform expectations. Projects conducted by the alliance included REL Midwest’s recent report, How Methodology Decisions Affect the Variability of Schools Identified as Beating the Odds.
In 2015, alliance members, in collaboration with REL Midwest leadership, identified the opportunity to expand the alliance’s focus to include all things related to school turnaround. The first iteration of the alliance worked to identify schools succeeding in challenging environments and to understand why these schools were able to succeed. Now, alliance members and researchers want to use this information to help other schools succeed. This expanded focus will allow alliance members to not only address issues related to identifying beating the odds schools, but also tackle challenges related to leadership, accountability, and the role of SEAs in school turnaround.
The expanded focus also provided an opportunity to revisit the alliance’s membership composition. To allow for more peer–to–peer collaboration, alliance members and REL Midwest leadership invited representatives from SEAs outside of Michigan to join the alliance and successfully recruited new members from Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
The newly formed School Turnaround Research Alliance’s expanded focus and composition necessitated that alliance members and REL Midwest researchers revisit the alliance’s goals, topics, and research questions. This ongoing process will allow new and veteran alliance members to be active participants in setting the alliance’s desired objectives as well as determining strategies, plans, and commitments to achieve them.
In one of the first projects conducted under the revamped School Turnaround Research Alliance, researchers are working with the Michigan Department of Education, along with intermediate school district and district administrators, to improve supports provided to focus schools through a rapid-cycle continuous improvement process. Through this process, REL Midwest will work with administrators to understand the root of the problems facing focus schools, improve upon supports to address these issues, and measure and track changes to outcomes of interest. Stay tuned for updates from this project.
Meet the Alliance Member
Greg Keith, director of the Division of School Support at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), has been with the department for three and half years and a member of the School Turnaround Research Alliance since 2015.
Although he joined the School Turnaround Research Alliance only recently, he is not new to research alliances or school turnaround. He has served as a member of REL Midwest’s Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance since its launch in 2012. Before coming to MDE, Keith was a school turnaround principal in Memphis, Tennessee, and also worked in the area of middle school reform at the district level.
Keith currently oversees MDE’s division that houses the system of support for the state’s identified focus and priority schools and provides technical assistance to schools and districts in the areas of continuous improvement planning, educator effectiveness and evaluation, and professional development.
The Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance was his first experience with a research-practice partnership, and that experience fueled his desire to join the School Turnaround Research Alliance.
“‘Research alliance’ sounded kind of big and abstract—like maybe it couldn’t relate to the work on the ground,” Keith said. “But I’ve learned that it really can have an impact on the work.”
Through projects of the Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance, Keith said alliance members tapped the technical expertise of REL Midwest and learned the basics of constructing a data-gathering tool and using it appropriately.
“Researchers didn’t just do the work for us,” Keith said. “They worked with us and that’s what was most valuable.”
By valuing the contributions from the school, district, and state levels, Keith brings an important perspective to the School Turnaround Research Alliance.
“When school turnaround is successful, it’s because all three levels—school, district, and state—work together,” he said. “I bring that personal awareness of what each level contributes.”
The people who do school turnaround work at all three levels keep Keith coming to the office every day. “They’re my motivation,” he said.
In his role, Keith strives to connect the work of the SEA to student outcomes.
“I regularly remind myself—and I ask my team to remember so that we can hold each other accountable—that for all actions, decisions, and policies, we consider if it is what’s best for the students.”
Meet the Researcher
Monica Bhatt, a researcher with REL Midwest’s School Turnaround Research Alliance, works to develop a research agenda and projects focused on school improvement supports in Midwest states. She joined the staff of REL Midwest in December 2014.
Bhatt has spent more than 10 years at the intersection of research, policy, and practice pursuing systematic answers to policy-relevant questions, both in the United States and abroad, including as a Fulbright Scholar in Madrid, Spain. Her experiences as a student, volunteer, researcher, policy analyst, and educator in diverse contexts led her to witness firsthand inequalities in education systems and the ways in which organizational factors could influence student outcomes.
“I’ve always been interested in the way that policy can drive organizational behavior and change,” said Bhatt.
She is particularly interested in the ways that states can design systems of support to spur improvements in low-performing schools, and has focused her dissertation in education policy at the University of Michigan on the implementation of statewide supports for low-performing schools in Michigan. As a researcher and technical assistance provider, she has worked on issues of school finance, educator quality, educator compensation, postsecondary access and equity, and school turnaround. Bhatt is currently working with the School Turnaround Research Alliance to develop a model of continuous improvement for state supports for focus schools in Michigan.
For Bhatt, the most enjoyable part of working with the alliance is the opportunity to engage with diverse perspectives from across the region.
“Right now the alliance is going through a process to develop topics of interest for a new research agenda,” said Bhatt. “I’ve enjoyed hearing the insights of both our new and returning members as we work to develop questions that will drive our work.”
She said the opportunity for direct collaboration with alliance members also has expanded the possibility of what research can do and how it can be incorporated into practice.
“It’s a win-win for all of us,” explained Bhatt. “The collaborative research model builds alliance members’ capacity to consume and participate in research while building our team’s capacity to ask and answer relevant questions for stakeholders.”
School Turnaround Resources and Events
- Three recent responses to REL Midwest Reference Desk requests on topics related to school turnaround are archived online. The first response looks into measures used to identify schools that outperform expectations. The next document provides information on measures of poverty used in school turnaround research. A final scan outlines how the American Community Survey has been used to measure community wealth in relation to school academic outcomes.
- REL Northeast & Islands created a Toolkit for a Workshop on Building a Culture of Data Use to guide facilitators through a set of structured activities to understand how to foster a culture of data use in districts and schools. The conceptual framework draws on five research-based elements known to support an effective culture of data use.
- A new report from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, titled A First Look at the 5Essentials in Illinois Schools, provides the first comprehensive analysis of Illinois’ statewide survey of school climate and learning conditions. The report finds systematic differences among schools in the degree to which students and teachers report strengths in the five essential supports—effective leadership, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environments, and ambitious instruction.
- Reform Support Network’s School Turnaround Performance Management Toolkitpresents a four-step framework to help states navigate changes and sustain their work as Race to the Top grants end. The framework has four variables: clarity of outcomes and theory of action, alignment of resources, collection and use of data, and accountability for results.
- The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices from the Center on School Turnaround builds on existing research and shares experiences and observations from practitioners and scholars actively engaged in school turnaround efforts.
- The Study of School Turnaround is a set of case studies that documents the change process during a three-year period in School Improvement Grant-funded schools located in diverse state and local contexts. A report from the Institute of Education Sciences, titled Case Studies of Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants: Findings After the First Year of Implementation, presents findings after the first year of funding (2010–11).
- REL Midwest and its School Turnaround Research Alliance will host a Making Connections public television event in December 2015 with WVIZ in Cleveland. Stay tuned for more information about the filming, including the date and time, panelists, and discussion topics.
- The School Turnaround Learning Community, a project of the Center on School Turnaround, will host a webinar on July 22 to showcase a strategy to guide SEAs and districts in assessing district readiness to support school turnaround. The presenters also will offer insights on school turnaround as a system-level issue requiring fundamental changes.
- REL Appalachia hosted a webinar in September 2014 titled “Meeting Students’ Needs Through Increased Learning Time.” Speakers presented evidence that supports increased learning time programs and shared their experiences implementing these programs. You can view the archived webinar on REL Appalachia’s website.
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REL Midwest at American Institutes for Research
School Turnaround Research Alliance
1120 East Diehl Road, Suite 200
Naperville, IL 60563-1486
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.
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