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Strategies for Improving Low-Performing Schools: A Search Tool

This tool was compiled after conducting a thorough search of the recent literature on strategies for improving low-performing schools. This broad body of literature includes both empirical and non-empirical sources published within the last 10 years (with the exception of one seminal article printed in 2003).

In using this tool, it is important to consider the scope of the sources. Studies included results ranging from after just one year of a reform initiative to transformation periods up to five years in length. Strategies are both specific to school turnaround and more general to school improvement initiatives. This tool contains studies focusing on the internal conditions for which schools, districts, and states have control, such as quality of instruction, professional development, school leadership, and student performance. Strategies are provided at the state, district, and school level, with those at the school-level covering elementary, middle, and high schools. Schools include those in large urban districts, as well as small rural schools. The contexts of these studies are as unique as the students and communities in which the schools are located.

Practitioners, researchers, and those interested in school improvement will find the tool useful for accessing current, research-based information. Users may enter a keyword or search the resources by selecting specific categories of interest under the three major sections - practice, population, and research. Please click on “search” to browse resulting records. Select “reset” to clear out search terms. When documents are publicly available, users may click on the live “reference link” in the citation to be taken directly to the resource in a new window.

The “Level of Evidence” for each resource was assessed using the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Procedures and Standards Handbook Version 3.0. Resources were rated a level of evidence according to the primary methodology reported. For example, the type of design (randomized controlled trial, quasi-experimental design, etc.) and the adequacy of the study’s statistical procedures were factors that determined the rating. All resources are rated as having either strong, moderate, or minimal levels of evidence, consistent with the What Works Clearinghouse definitions. “Level of Evidence” was included as a search option so that users would understand the great majority of resources on the topic (106 of 127) are based on minimal levels of evidence.


Browse Records

There are 126 entries.

Ahn, T., & Vigdor, J. (2013). The impact of No Child Left Behind's accountability sanctions on school performance: Regression discontinuity evidence from North Carolina. Unpublished manuscript, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. Retrieved from reference link.

This article examines whether sanctions built into the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability regime improve student performance. A detailed examination of the correlation between the varying degrees of school sanctions and their associated long-term impact on student math and reading performance provides insight into how schools respond to various levels of sanctions as they strive to improve student performance. Using school-level and student-level data from North Carolina public schools, the authors found that the effect of NCLB sanctions varied depending on a school's internal and external conditions. Schools that initially entered the NCLB accountability regime saw modest gains in school and student performance whereas schools under a restructuring plan (where school leaders are replaced) experienced greater school and student performance. The authors also found that in schools that initially missed adequate yearly progress (AYP), their below-average students improved their tests scores relative to below-average students in schools that made AYP. This observation suggests that at least some schools responding to accountability sanctions divert resources to support low-performing students.


Almy, S., & Tooley, M. (2012). Building and sustaining talent: Creating conditions in high-poverty schools that support effective teaching and learning. Retrieved from The Education Trust website: reference link.

This multi-case study examines five school districts that created working conditions conducive to reducing teacher dissatisfaction and turnover in minority and low-income schools. The authors contend that strong and effective leadership, effective use of data, teacher collaboration, and staff professional development were hallmarks of a work environment that lowers teacher dissatisfaction and teacher turnover. The authors also enumerated a number of policies that support the recruitment and retention of high quality teachers in minority and low-income schools. For instance, one policy may include a ban on filling vacancies based solely on seniority. Without such a ban, the status quo will be maintained where new teachers with low seniority will continue to teach in high-poverty schools whereas teachers with greater seniority will continue to teach in lower-poverty schools. Another policy is to create a teacher and principal evaluation system to identify and assign the best staff to the neediest schools, while developing a work environment that exemplifies best practices.


American Institutes for Research. (2010). A learning point: What experience from the field tells us about school leadership and turnaround. Retrieved from reference link.

In this "District and School Improvement Thought Paper," authors review the literature related to school leadership. In doing so, the components of effective leadership and the shifting roles of school leaders from managers to instructional leaders to transformational leaders are discussed. The need for district leadership to successfully transform schools is a key point in this review. Lastly, recommendations are made to develop school- and district-wide policies to support school transformation. These include expanding decision-making from one leader to engaging all stakeholders in the transformation process, leaders thinking strategically from a systems perspective, districts providing the resources to support the weakest schools, and using research on leadership and instruction to support the transformation, including empowering teachers to contribute to the plan. This paper makes the case for distributed leadership at the school and district levels.


Annenberg Institute for School Reform. (2013, Winter/Spring). The next four years: Recommendations for federal education policy (No. 36). Providence, RI: Author. Retrieved from reference link.

This document contains articles that examine various aspects of school turnaround and provides federal education policy recommendations to address issues concerning college readiness, school turnaround, and expanding learning time. Although the articles discuss a variety of education reform topics, their disparate areas of focus are components of effective school turnaround. The purpose of school turnaround is to improve student academic achievement in order to provide them with greater opportunities for college and career success. One of the ways in which to support this endeavor is to extend learning time within and beyond the school day. College readiness, school turnaround, and expending leading time are part of the Annenberg Institute's vision of providing quality supports for all students.


Ascher, C., & Maguire, C. (2007). Beating the odds: How thirteen NYC schools bring low-performing ninth-graders to timely graduation and college enrollment. Providence, RI: Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. Retrieved from reference link.

This article discusses the four key strategies used to "beat the odds" based on interviews conducted with administrators, counselors, and other relevant staff of thirteen urban high schools. The strategies are (a) academic rigor, (b) networks of timely supports, (c) college expectations and access, and (d) effective use of data. The schools considered the strategy of the effective use of data to be their weakest area of practice. Key factors identified as necessary to maintain success included district support and acknowledgement, better distribution of resources, and greater control over enrollments. This study provides examples of schools with predominantly Black and Hispanic students, from mostly low-income families, scoring low on reading and math, who were able to graduate on-time and attend college.


Balfanz, J., Andrekopoulos, W., Hertz, A., & Kliman, C. T. (2012). Closing the implementation gap: Leveraging City Year and National Service as a new human capital strategy to transform low-performing schools. Retrieved from Talent Development Secondary website: reference link.

This report describes and promotes the City Year AmeriCorps initiative to turn around low-performing, high-poverty schools and to decrease the dropout rate through the use of research-based practices. The authors contend that an implementation gap exists that prevents schools from implementing strategies that support students' needs and promote school improvement. Community and corporate organizations that leverage AmeriCorp can seek partnerships with education stakeholders to provide schools with additional human capital to assist in implementing proven reforms. Although AmeriCorp personnel do not implement reform initiatives, they provide school operations support through tutoring, mentoring, verifying attendance, and facilitating a positive school climate.


Barela, E., & McCurdy, D. (2013, April). Lessons learned from three urban middle schools engaged in the turnaround process. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA. Retrieved from Partners in School Innovation website: reference link.

This multi-site case study examines the turnaround process in three underperforming California middle schools between 2010 and 2013. The purpose of this study is to identify process oriented characteristics of effective and sustainable school turnaround. To identify specific characteristics of effective school turnaround, the authors ask three questions: How do leadership practices change through the turnaround process? How do systems of professional development drive change in building capacity to support school turnaround? How does core instruction change in the school turnaround process? Using mixed-methods research, the authors found that schools that were in the process of turnaround had school leaders that effectively communicated their vision and engaged in distributive leadership practices, engaged in high-quality collaboration around the school's vision, and did not change core instructional practices. Although, instructional practices were unchanged, how teachers viewed their work made a difference among the schools under study. The authors identified several attributes for sustaining school turnaround: focusing attention to school vision, building collaborative relationships, recruiting and retaining dedicated staff, building teacher leadership and skill capacity, and building structures to support transformative practices.


Barley, Z. A., & Beesley, A. D. (2007). Rural school success: What can we learn? Journal of Research in Rural Education, 22(1), 1-16. Retrieved from reference link.

Principals in high-performing, high-needs rural schools were interviewed by phone about factors that contributed to their success. Four factors perceived to be "very important" by the largest number of principals were high expectations for students; structural supports for learning; use of student data; and alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. In the second phase, researchers visited schools in Colorado, Missouri, and Wyoming and produced four case studies. Common themes across the case study schools included close relationships with the community, high teacher retention, and high expectations for student work. This study provides insights on the factors perceived to contribute to the success of students in rural schools.


Beesley, A. D., & Barley, Z. A. (2006). Rural schools that beat the odds: Four case studies. McREL Insights. Retrieved from reference link.

These case studies evolved out of Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning's (2005) larger study on high-performing, high-needs schools described above in this section by Barley & Beesley (2007), Rural school success: What can we learn? This report describes four rural areas: Novinger, Missouri; Julesburg, Colorado; Sundance, Wyoming; and Merino, Colorado. The strategies for beating the odds, prevalent themes, and conclusions are provided by the authors. Strategies for beating the odds included using student data, knowing and involving parents, keeping expectations high, bolstering learning with policies and organizational structures, supporting teachers, nurturing teachers' growth, and retaining dedicated teachers. While each of these rural communities was unique, several of the strategies for beating the odds overlapped and could prove useful in other rural settings.


Bell, S., & Pirtle, S. S. (2012). Texas Comprehensive Center briefing paper: Transforming low-performing rural schools. Retrieved from reference link.

This literature review begins with the definitions of rural districts and schools. Key issues affecting rural education are discussed, including challenges and advantages. Seven strategies and actions for transforming rural districts and schools are provided. These include (a) knowing the context of the district and community, (b) creating a vision for the transformation process, (c) providing high-quality teachers and support structures, (d) employing technology, (e) providing early childhood development opportunities, (f) extending learning opportunities, and (g) providing parent and community development and outreach. The brief concludes with descriptions of school turnaround in Alabama and Louisiana. The insights specific to improving low-performing schools in rural contexts are potentially valuable for those seeking similar improvements.


Bondy, E., Mayne, D., Langley, L., & Williamson, P. (2005). From F to A in 180 days. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Educational Leadership: Turnaround Schools (online only), 62. Retrieved from reference link.

Surveys were administered and interviews were conducted with the staff in one Florida elementary school that improved from an F- to an A-rated school in a single year. Successful practices identified fell into two categories: conditions of teaching and learning, and the nature of instruction. Under "conditions of teaching and learning," the most effective practice as perceived by teachers was the increased opportunities for instruction tailored to students' strengths and weaknesses (e.g. the after-school tutoring program implemented). Under "nature of instruction," teachers believed that both analyses of the reading test and the school's integrated arts program had major impacts on students' improved achievement. Sustainability of the school's success is described. For example, a partnership with a local university allowed for professional development opportunities for teachers. This study provides insights into the practices that turned this school around within one year, and resulted in a grade of A' in the second year.


Bottoms, G., & Schmidt-Davis, J. (2010). The three essentials: Improving schools requires district vision, district and state support, and principal leadership. Southern Regional Education Board [SREB]. Retrieved from reference link.

In this study researchers identified districts from three SREB states to examine the role of the district office in supporting principals. Districts sampled were representative of the SREB region based on size, demographics, and achievement. Six leaders located in seven districts were interviewed. Content of interviews was coded according to three tiers of district support: highly, moderate, and minimally supported. Rankings were corroborated by achievement data. Findings revealed two highly supportive districts, two moderately supportive districts, and three minimally supportive districts. These tiers are discussed within the context of SREB's framework of seven strategies for how districts can support principals effectively in school improvement. The two overarching conclusions were (a) state capacity-building, district vision and principal leadership must be in place for struggling high schools to improve and (b) all three are rarely present and working in sync. A chart is provided at the end aligning the seven strategies with specific steps that states, districts, and schools can take to sustain school improvement.


Brinson, D., & Steiner, L. (2012). Building family and community demand for dramatic change in schools. Retrieved from Public Impact website: reference link.

This report argues that family and community involvement is essential in turning around low-performing schools. Family and community involvement can (a) facilitate buy-in from the broader community, (b) promote academic and school success, (c) reduce opposition from other stakeholders, and (d) sustain school initiatives. The authors surveyed 28 civic and education leaders to identify the processes associated with building family and community demand for school change. The report provides steps for building family and community demand for sustainable school reform. A few takeaways in developing an engagement strategy are: Define a goal. Discuss the possibilities of success. Establish trust among community members. Publicize success. Be transparent. Manage expectations. The authors argue that family and community members' commitment to school reform is necessary for long-term school improvement because of the ability to overcome political and district challenges.


Brinson, D., Kowal, J., & Hassel, B. C. (2008). School turnarounds: Actions and results. Retrieved from reference link.

This article provides vignettes drawn from case studies documenting successful turnarounds. It provides specific strategies used by leaders as examples for the 14 turnaround leader actions found by Rhim, Kowal, Hassel, & Hassel (2007), in School Turnarounds: A review of the cross-sector evidence on dramatic organizational improvement. For example, under the category "Driving for Results," and the leadership action "Implement practices even if they require deviation," the authors describe the case of a principal who surveyed key stakeholders (guardians, churches, YMCA) on their views about year-round schooling. Since new school breaks would be created because of year-round schooling, the principal learned through this process that students could attend the Boys and Girls Club of America during the breaks. After analysis of the survey results in support of year-round schooling, the data was presented to the school board and the change was approved. The practical, real-world examples illuminate actions taken by turnaround leaders.


Brownstein, A. (2012). What studies say about school turnarounds. Retrieved from Education Writers Association website: reference link.

This brief examines the findings associated with school turnaround and its probability of success. According to the author, successful school turnarounds are rare due to a number of interrelated factors (e.g., teacher quality, leadership, and school and community culture). The lack of methodological rigor in school improvement research makes measuring school turnaround efforts extremely difficult. This brief focuses on a series of questions and research findings regarding school turnaround. Some of the most frequently asked questions are Must principals be replaced? Does replacing teachers improve low-achieving schools? Do schools need quick successes? Do increased professional development and teacher performance evaluations that are tied to student achievement promote school turnaround? Are restarts and school closures more effective in promoting school turnarounds than other methods? Based on a review of over 50 documents, the author found that although not all principals were replaced, their leadership style changed in order to promote school turnaround success. He also found that staff member changes are necessary in order to create a dedicated instructional staff. Moreover, quick wins set the tone for school improvement and create buy-in from teachers. Although there is a lack of strong evidence that suggest professional development is related to student achievement, it is frequently identified with successful school turnarounds. It is too early to determine if teacher evaluation models tied to student performance is effective in eliciting school turnaround. The author suggests that restarts may be effective in turning around schools if they have organizational supports in place to encourage improved student achievement. Long-term planning and extensive professional development are among some of the characteristics of successful school turnaround, however, they are limited in their effectiveness in facilitating school improvement.


Bryk, A. S., Sebring, P. B., Allensworth, E., Luppescu, S., & Easton, J. Q. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement: Lessons from Chicago. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

This study is based on longitudinal data from 200 public elementary schools in Chicago. Data sources include individual student test scores in reading and math on the Iowa tests of basic skills from 1990 to 1996; school administrative records to obtain a value-added index of school improvement; Consortium on Chicago School Research school surveys from principals, teachers, and students; and other data from the U.S. Census, Chicago Housing Authority, and the Chicago Police Department. Findings reveal five "essential supports" required for school improvement: (a) school leadership, (b) parent and community ties, (c) professional capacity of the faculty, (d) school learning climate, and (e) instructional guidance. These structures are all inextricably linked. Other key findings include (a) schools with strong leadership were seven times more likely to improve in math; (b) improvement in test scores depended on a focus by adults on instruction; (c) schools with strong parental involvement were 10 times more likely to improve in math; (d) 15% of truly disadvantaged schools (lowest levels of collective efficacy and religious participation, and the highest crime rates) showed significant improvement; and (e) disadvantaged communities that were well organized were able to improve. These "Lessons from Chicago" highlight important implications for urban settings.


Bubb, S., & Earley, P. (2009). Leading staff development for school improvement. School Leadership and Management, 29(1), 23-37.

The nine schools in this case study were located across England and ranged in size from a small village primary school to a large urban comprehensive school. Authors examined the journey of schools from self-evaluation of school performance, through staff development, to school improvement. Participating schools were visited three times (every two terms), in addition to contact via phone, postal mail, and email. Adults including teachers, assistant teachers, head teacher, deputy, and professional development leaders, as well as students were interviewed. Ten factors were found to be important in accurately using outcomes of self-evaluation to identify needs and bring about improvement to enhance student learning. Among the factors were (a) the effective leadership and management of staff development, (b) the need for a clear shared understanding of staff development, and (c) a learning-centered culture within the school. Authors provide a comprehensive definition of staff development, which differed from understandings of some school staff. Consideration of the factors could be valuable in providing more effective staff development.


Byrne-Jimenez, M. (2006). School turnaround case study: Washington Heights Elementary, Fort Worth, TX. Retrieved from reference link.

Data for this study were collected over a two-year period and included interviews with the principal, archival data, one school visit, specialist and faculty interviews, and conference observations in an elementary school in Fort Worth, TX. This article begins by describing the school context. Then, the six strategies of the School Turnaround (ST) model are discussed as related to the Washington Heights turnaround and include (a) diagnosis, (b) target-setting, (c) data use, (d) message, (e) resource alignment, and (f) successful classrooms. Qualities of a turnaround leader, as identified by ST are mentioned and additional themes from the data also reveal the following leadership traits and practices from the principal at Washington Heights focus, seeking help, advocacy, commitment, modeling, and innovation. The nature of the partnership between the ST specialist and principal is described as personal, accessible, and useful. This article was useful in understanding the ST model in action through the turnaround of one school.


California Collaborative on District Reform (2011, February). Beyond the school: Exploring a systemic approach to school turnaround. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from reference link.

This policy and practice brief argues for a systemic approach to school turnaround by highlighting themes that emerged from eight districts in the California Collaborative on District Reform. The purpose of this brief is to elicit discussion among district leaders who are currently responding to the challenge of school turnaround. It is posited that there are two lessons for school turnaround: (a) sustainable school turnaround requires district-level (not just school-level) approaches in order to leverage resources and expertise, and (b) turnaround efforts must be customized to meet the needs and conditions of individual schools.


California Department of Education. (2011). Family engagement framework: A tool for California school districts. Sacramento, CA: Author. Retrieved from reference link.

This document provides two resources for engaging families in state educational programs. First is a rubric addressing 18 district principles arranged within five action areas: capacity building, leadership, resources, progress monitoring, and equity. The principles are aligned to required district activities that incorporate federal and state laws and regulations. Ratings of school- or district-level implementation range from basic to innovative. Second, a simpler "Tool for Communication with Families" is also provided within the document. This resource describes what districts do to support the learning and success of students and offers suggestions to families on how they can offer support. While specific to California state policies, these tools may be useful to district officials and school level administrators seeking to increase family engagement practices.


California Department of Education. (2012). California school climate survey. San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Retrieved from reference link.

This online survey measures student learning and staff working conditions K-12. It is required by the California Department of Education to be administered at least once every two years. It provides data for areas such as teacher recruitment and retention, non-cognitive barriers to learning, and issues including equity, bias, and cultural competence linked to the achievement gap. There are three modules to the survey: (a) general core module, consisting of 69 questions that target all staff; (b) learning supports module, consisting of 25 items, administered to staff responsible for services or instruction related to health, prevention, discipline, safety, or counseling; and (c) special education support module, consisting of 25 items administered to staff responsible for teaching or providing related services to students with Individualized Education Plans. A customized module can be developed to meet individual school needs. Guidebooks are available for support in planning, administering, and reporting results of the survey. In addition, a helpline, webinars, and workshops are provided to users. This tool may be useful to school-level personnel in gauging environmental factors that may impact student achievement, as well as in retaining and attracting quality teachers.


Calkins, A., Guenther, W., Belfiore, G., & Lash, D. (2007). The turnaround challenge: Why America's best opportunity to dramatically improve student achievement lies in our worst-performing schools. Retrieved from Mass Insight Education website: reference link.

This report provides recommendations for states and districts to effectively address the challenges of the lowest performing schools. Based on existing literature and interviews, the authors contend that successful school turnaround requires three basic elements: (a) change conditions create a protected space free of bureaucratic restrictions; (b) increase capacity utilize school and community leaders as turnaround partners; and (c) organize clusters of schools cluster schools by similar identifiers (e.g., need, social type, region, or feeder pattern) that are led by turnaround experts to address specific school needs. This report may interest state-level and district-level administrators as they seek to find innovative ways to turnaround low-performing schools.


Canales, M. T., Tejeda-Delgado, C. & Slate, J. R. (2008). Leadership behaviors of superintendents/principals in small, rural school districts in Texas. The Rural Educator, 29(3). 1-7. Retrieved from reference link.

In this study, 206 teachers, 35 school board presidents, and 37 superintendents/principals were surveyed from 44 small rural school districts in the State of Texas. Authors' purposes were to (a) determine the effective leadership behaviors exhibited by superintendent/principals, as perceived by the superintendent/principals themselves, by teachers, and by school board presidents and (b) investigate the differences between those behaviors according to the three groups. Through descriptive statistics, all three groups identified "Representation" (a leader's ability to speak and act as the representative of the group) as the most prevalent leadership behavior among superintendents/principals. "Tolerance of Freedom" (where the leader allows the followers scope for initiative, decision, and action) and "Consideration" were also identified by two of the groups as being most prevalent. Statistically significant differences were found for 6 of the 12 leadership subscales. Superintendents/principals consistently rated themselves lower than teachers and school board presidents. Authors conclude that results may have implications for administrator preparation programs. Findings of this study could provide useful insights into the qualities of leaders having dual job responsibilities in rural areas. These are worthwhile considerations when understanding the challenges of such positions.


Chance, P. L., & Segura, S. N. (2009). A rural high school's collaborative approach to school improvement. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 24(5) 1-12. Retrieved from reference link.

This study was conducted five years after a new principal took over. Data included in-depth interviews, a review of school documents, and observations of all 37 classrooms, as well as various events at the school. Authors describe collaboration as the heart of this improvement process. The collaboration model included an integrated approach to instructional leadership that combined organizational management and leadership skills. The three factors enabling collaboration were time, structure and focus, and leadership for student-centered planning. This study is an example of slow and steady improvement over time that allowed for staff buy-in.


Checkoway, A., Boulay, B., Gamse, B., Caven, M., Fox, L., Kliorys, K.,...Woodford, M. (Abt Associates Inc.). (2011). Evaluation of the expanded learning time initiative Year four integrated report: 2009-10 Annual Report: Volume I. Retrieved from reference link.

Researchers used an interrupted time series design, as well as data from teacher and student surveys to examine extended learning time. Results are provided with respect to the core components of the program, student achievement outcomes, and non-academic outcomes. Regarding the core components, all students at almost every school participated in at least some enrichment activities. The number of community partners across all extended learning time (ELT) schools ranged from 0 to 20, and the average was 5. More than three quarters of ELT teachers participated in professional development activities during school hours. With respect to student achievement outcomes, this evaluation revealed no statistically significant effects of ELT after three years of implementation on Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test scores. Lastly, non-academic outcomes reveal significantly longer days compared with schools not offering ELT and significantly more time devoted to language arts, math, science, specials, and enrichment activities. While a statistically significant higher proportion of teachers in ELT schools were satisfied with the amount of time available for instruction, teacher and student fatigue were identified as a problem. Regarding student perceptions, a statistically significant higher proportion of students in ELT schools reported that they were able to choose activities in school than would be the case in the absence of ELT. A statistically significant smaller proportion of ELT students reported that their teachers had time to provide extra help with school work when needed than would be the case in the absence of ELT. In addition, statistically significant fewer proportion of students in ELT schools reported that they (a) learned a lot in school, (b) they liked being at their school, (c) they looked forward to going to school, (d) they felt safe while at school, and (e) that most kids at their school liked being there, relative to what would be estimated without ELT. This study provides insights into the implementation and outcomes of extended learning time after four years. Results are helpful in light of the requirement under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers redesigning the school day, week, or year. This paper is related to the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Initiative: 2010-2011 Update by Massachusetts 2020.


Childress, S., & Goldin, A. (2009). The turn-around at Highland Elementary School. Public Education Leadership Project at Harvard University. Retrieved from reference link.

Highland Elementary School was one of six blue ribbon elementary schools in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland. Authors describe the steps to restructuring, which included implementing a new literacy approach, strengthening math instruction, building an inclusion model, and introducing self-accountability for teaching and learning. In addition, the school began to use data for better diagnosis and instruction, and for establishing a culture that supports learning. Under new leadership, students' state reading test scores grew from 20% to 55% in 2007-2008. The detailed activities of this one school demonstrate the comprehensive efforts made in multiple areas throughout the improvement process.


Clifford, M. (2013). Learning to lead school turnaround: The Mississippi LEADS professional development model. Cypriot Journal of Educational Sciences, 8(1), 49-62. Retrieved from reference link.

This study evaluates the efficacy of the Mississippi LEADS professional development model which is designed to develop and support principals in turnaround schools. The program's professional development design contains (a) structured learning (e.g., workshops and conference presentations), (b) job-embedded professional development (i.e., understanding the daily practices of principals in context), and (c) strengthening principals' social networks beyond the school. The purpose of this research is to determine whether participation in Mississippi LEADS facilitates the technical and practical knowledge principals need to oversee comprehensive school turnaround. A quasi-experimental design was used to survey school staff in 36 of the lowest performing rural and suburban schools in Mississippi. The findings suggest that leadership quality (e.g., instructional leadership), and school climate improved among Mississippi LEADS participants. The author recommends providing professional supports to principals and building teacher capacity in order to initiate and sustain effective school turnaround.


Coggshall, J. G., Ott, A., Behrstock, E., & Lasagna, M. (2010). Retaining teacher talent: The view from Generation Y. Retrieved from reference link.

In this study, a national, random-sample survey was administered to 890 public school teachers (with an over-sample of 241 teachers aged 32 and under) and six focus group interviews were conducted in Long Beach, CA, Madison, WI, Washington, D.C., Raleigh NC, Denver, CO, and Chicago, IL. Six major findings are reported, particularly related to the Gen Y population (those born between 1977 and 1995). One of the major findings was that Gen Y teachers are more open to teachers being rewarded differently for their performance and responsibilities in the classroom than earlier generations. Gen Y teachers also preferred sustained, constructive, and individualized feedback from principals to help them become more effective. The findings from this survey provide insight into factors to retain Gen Y teachers.


Connor, H. (2011). (Dis)empowerment: The implementation of corrective mathematics in Philadelphia empowerment schools. Perspectives on Urban Education, 9(1). Advance online publication. Retrieved from reference link.

This article investigates the merits of Corrective Mathematics (CM), an intervention program used to teach basic math skills, in one middle grade Philadelphia Empowerment School. Using interviews and observations, the author contends that CM was not properly implemented according to CM guidelines thus prohibiting program performance and student learning. Instead of enrolling students that need remediation, all students, regardless of skill level, were enrolled into the program which swelled class sizes beyond CM recommendations. These inconsistencies prohibited low-performing students from receiving the attention they need to become successful. The author made several recommendations to school superintendents considering math intervention programs that may improve student achievement. The recommendations were Identify students that need remediation. Decide on the appropriate program(s) for instruction. Use research based intervention programs. Involve teachers in the decision making process in choosing the appropriate intervention program.


Corbett, J. (2011). The Montana story: Providing support to frontier communities through state oversight, embedded coaching, and community engagement. Lincoln, IL: Center on Innovation and Improvement. Retrieved from reference link.

This is a case study of the initial year of Montana's School Improvement Grant implementation. Two main categories of promising practices discussed are (a) clarity, accountability, and focus from the top down and (b) embedded coaches in the field. Detailed steps are provided on the state's process for supporting the school districts. In addition, sample resources are provided, including "Indicators of Success," "Memorandum of Understanding," "Implementation Agreement," and job descriptions. This article highlights actions taken at the state level towards school improvement and provides resources useful for replication by other states.


Corry, M., & Carlson-Bancroft, A. (2014, May). Transforming and turning around low-performing schools: The role of online learning. The Journal of Educators Online, 11(2). Retrieved from reference link.

The purpose of this meta-analysis is to examine the role of online learning as a tool within the school improvement grant (SIG) transformational or turnaround models. Ten published research studies and one dissertation were used to examine the effectiveness and appropriateness of online learning as a strategy for transforming and turning around low-performing schools. Searching education journals, electronic databases, and government and nongovernment websites, the authors found three benefits of online learning that can be applied to low-performing schools. These benefits are: (a) increasing access to school content for all students, regardless of their location, (b) motivating and engaging students, and (c) providing individualized learning opportunities. Accordingly, online learning is considered an effective tool in the school turnaround process and has the ability to improve student academic outcomes; however, research on online learning and its applicability as an effective educational tool is limited.


Cullen, J. B., Levitt, S. D., Robertson, E., & Sadoff, S. (2013). What can be done to improve struggling high schools? The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27, 133-152. Retrieved from reference link.

This paper provides a selective overview of the evidence regarding struggling high schools and alternative educational pathways for students' academic and career success. The authors contend that there are three reasons for the number of struggling high schools the use of a college prep curriculum that is often incompatible with many students' backgrounds and skill level, high schools' vertical and horizontal distribution of capital and labor inputs, and districts' ability to provide alternative school options. The findings suggest that alternative schools have shown positive outcomes for low-performing students that were formally in traditional college prep programs. As a result, the authors argue that school districts should increase the number of alternative high school programs that focus on life skills and work experiences in order to improve all students' academic and career success.


Daly, A. J., & Finnigan, K. S. (2012). Exploring the space between: Social networks, trust, and urban school district leaders. Journal of School Leadership, 22, 493-530. Retrieved from reference link.

This exploratory research article examines the relationship between school district leaders and site leaders, and how their relationship is shaped by social networks and trust. The purpose of this study is to determine how networks and trust facilitate organizational change and improvement. Survey data is used to determine the relationship between networks and trust within the theoretical framework of social capital. Findings indicate that weak network ties, low levels of trust, and a predictive relationship between trust and the reciprocal exchange of best practices are related to improvement. This article may be useful to district officials and school level administrators as they realized the importance of building collaborative relationships to facilitate school improvement.


de la Torre, M., Allensworth, E., Jagesic, S., Sebastian, J., Salmonowicz, M., Meyers, C., & Gerdeman, R. D. (2012). Turning around low-performing schools in Chicago: Summary report. Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Retrieved from reference link.

The performance of elementary, middle, and high schools in Chicago were compared in two ways: (a) student performance before and after the intervention, and (b) student performance in reformed schools compared to student performance in matched schools that did not experience the intervention. Findings revealed significant increases in test scores, but not in the first year. After four years, the reading gap was reduced by almost half and the math gap was reduced by almost two-thirds. Researchers did not look at test scores in high schools because the district did not consistently administer tests to the same grade levels over the period being studied. However, absences and 9th grade "on-track" rates were examined and there were no significant improvements. Authors note that turning around low-performing schools is a process. This study validates the notion that significant impacts of reform initiatives on student test scores in chronically low-performing schools may not be evident immediately.


de Velasco, J. R., & McLaughlin, M. (2012). Raising the bar, building capacity: Driving improvement in California's continuation high schools. Retrieved from Stanford University, Graduate School of Education website: reference link.

This report investigates the policies and practices that facilitate student success in continuation high schools. Continuation high schools are alternative high school diploma programs for students who are at risk of not graduating. The report focuses on schools that are performing below federal and state expectations and explores policy and practice interventions. Using classroom observations, focus groups, and interview data from continuation schools, the authors argue that a large portion of continuation schools are not a priority for state, district, and community education leaders in terms of building instructional capacity for student academic success. Successful continuation high schools, on the other hand, establish district, state, and community-based networks designed to meet student needs and provide opportunities for academic and career success. The authors suggest a variety of policy initiatives to ensure that students in continuation high schools receive the necessary skills to graduate.


Dee, T. (2012, April). School turnarounds: Evidence from the 2009 stimulus (Working Paper No. 17990). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from Center for Education Policy Analysis website: reference link.

Using data from California public schools, the author investigates the efficacy of school improvement grants (SIG) on school turnaround and whether the "lowest achieving" schools (schools with low average math and English language arts proficiency scores over three years) outperform the "lack of progress" schools (schools scoring below 50 on the Academic Performance Index). Based on a 2010-2011 sample of 82 SIG recipients, the author found that there was a "statistically significant improvement" in test-based performance among "lowest achieving" schools, but not among "lack of progress" schools. The author posited that the continued lack of progress may be due to the fact that these schools were already on the path of school improvement. Although SIG-funded reforms had a positive effect on the "lowest achieving" schools, the ability of these schools to sustain or improve their gains largely depended on the voracity of their program implementation.


Denton, C., Foorman, B., & Mathes, P. (September/October 2003). Schools that beat the odds': Implications for reading instruction. Remedial and Special Education, 24(5), 258-261.

Observations were made of five elementary schools that had been consistently successful in teaching children to read, despite serving at-risk populations. While using varying approaches to reading instruction, schools shared these common threads: (a) a sense of urgency and commitment to learning, (b) strong instructional leadership and accountability, (c) professional development and coaching, (d) regular assessment and monitoring of student progress, (e) targeted instruction and intervention, and (f) a "No Excuses" approach. This article shows that various approaches to reading instruction that incorporate the key components of phonemic awareness, phonemic decoding, fluency, construction of meaning, vocabulary, spelling, and writing can be effective.


Designs for Change. (2012). Chicago's democratically-led elementary schools far out-perform Chicago's "turnaround schools". Chicago, IL: Author. Retrieved from reference link.

A research team analyzed student performance data in reading, teacher turnover of democratically-led and turnaround schools in Chicago, and the cost incurred by the Chicago Public Schools for supporting turnaround schools. The study makes a case for diverting funding from turnaround schools to school-based democracy schools. School-based democracy schools have a parent-majority council and are outperforming the turnaround schools. Parent-majority councils (a) use school-based versus top down strategies; (b) choose their principals for 4-year contracts; (c) develop, approve, and monitor the implementation of a school improvement plan and budget; and (d) actively build school partnerships. Findings showed that turnaround schools averaged a 4.9% annual gain in student achievement, while democratically led non-turnaround schools averaged a 6.2% gain. Teacher retention was higher in democratically-led schools, and the average additional cost of turnaround per school was slightly over $7 million. Thus, authors advocate for reallocation of resources to high-poverty schools using alternate strategies, such as local school councils, to improve. This study provides a comparison of reform strategies for improving high-poverty urban elementary schools. A parent-majority local school council may provide a greater return on investment in terms of higher student achievement and less teacher turnover.


Dickey-Griffith, D. (2014). Preliminary effects of the school improvement grant program on student achievement in Texas (Master's thesis). Retrieved from reference link.

This paper investigates the effects of school improvement grants (SIG) on graduation rates and student achievement, and whether the effects differ between rural and urban schools and between charter versus non-charter (traditional schools) in Texas. Using the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) data for the 2011-2012 school year, the author found that after its first year of implementation, schools receiving SIG funding saw a positive effect on graduation rates and marginal improvement in student academic performance. The results also revealed that urban schools received more benefits from SIG than rural schools, while there was no difference between charter schools and non-charter schools. The tentative findings in this paper are due to a number of factors: the context in which SIG is implemented, the analysis of the paper was limited to the first year of SIG implementation, the report does not take into account students that leave during the implementation year, the inability to control for the effects of school spending, and because SIG schools have students that are already low performing, any changes in their achievement after implementation, may not be fully attributable to the program. The author concludes that additional research is warranted to determine the long-term effects of SIG funding on low-performing schools.


Dobbie, W., & Fryer Jr., R. G. (2011). Are high-quality schools enough to close the achievement gap? Evidence from the Harlem Children's Zone. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3, 158-187. Retrieved from reference link.

The Harlem Children's Zone combines "No Excuses" charter schools, where there is administrative flexibility and parental participation, with a web of community services, including mental and physical health support. Authors compared children who entered the schools via lottery ("lottery winners") versus those who applied but were not selected ("lottery losers") a natural random assignment. The effects of the charter school program on lottery winners who entered at the elementary level were enough to close the black/white achievement gap in math and English language arts by third grade. Lottery winners who entered at the middle school level made sufficient gains to close the black/white achievement gap in math by ninth grade. Authors concluded that the high-quality of the charter schools was enough to significantly raise academic achievement and the community programs were not necessary or sufficient. Features of the charter schools included high-quality teachers, incentives for teacher retention, and programs so that children who were behind grade level spent about twice as many hours in school as a traditional New York City public school student. In addition, programs offered extended day, extended year, coordinated after-school tutoring, and Saturday classes for children needing remediation. Implications of this study are important in that this strategy is working to close achievement gaps; however, movements to invest in community programs may need further examination.


Dodman, S. (2014). A vivid illustration of leadership: Principal's actions propel struggling school's turnaround. JSD, 35(1), 56-62. Retrieved online.

This case study describes effective leadership practices in a high-poverty, low-achieving elementary school. According to the author, an effective principal leads while distributing power throughout the faculty, and establishes a vibrant learning community or community of practice that takes responsibility for initiating and maintaining reform efforts. The author surmised that the characteristics of a successful school leader are consistent with those of the Learning Forward's leadership standards which include establishing a common goal and instructional accountability and developing capacity for leading and learning. The author provides a list of leadership actions that are hallmarks for effective change. These actions are: Determine goals and establish a sense of urgency in achieving the goals. Establish healthy and positive relationships with faculty and staff. Provide meaningful and relevant professional development opportunities. Address issues as a community. View external initiatives as a conduit for professional and student learning. Learn how to feel comfortable with change and adapt to new situations.


Doyle, D., & Boast, L. (Public Impact). (2011). 2010 Annual report: The University of Virginia school turnaround specialist program. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education. Retrieved from reference link.

In this study, low-performing schools with principals enrolled in the University of Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program (UVASTSP) were compared with matched schools and top state performers. Four types of analyses were used to evaluate the program effect: (a) growth analysis, (b) comparable school analysis, (c) state gap analysis, and (d) annual yearly progress (AYP). This annual report focuses on the three most recent cohorts for whom data are available (4, 5, and 6) and reports findings for the same. Main findings revealed that 75% of schools closed the gap with top state performers. Turnaround schools made three point or larger gains than comparable schools. Sixty-two percent of Cohort 4 and 5 made AYP, compared with 26% before the program. And, 17 UVASTSP schools (27%) had positive results across every analysis for which data were available while six percent had negative results across every analysis. Considering that the two-year program focuses on professional development for principals and building district capacity to initiate and support transformational change, the findings of this report are promising for the program and participants


Duke, D. L. (2006). Keys to sustaining successful school turnarounds. ERS Spectrum, 24(4), 21-35. Retrieved from reference link.

Data were derived from 15 case studies of schools with a pattern of low achievement as measured by student performance on standardized tests. This pattern was reversed and sustained for at least two years when data were collected. The six lessons on sustaining school turnarounds are (a) only comprehensive change succeeds, (b) change must be customized, (c) some changes are essential, (d) elementary schools are changing, (e) teachers are not impediments, and (f) take nothing for granted. The essential changes referenced in lesson (c) above begin with the need for an agreed-upon focus or mission and set of core beliefs to guide the improvement efforts. Distributed leadership is also essential, as principals cannot turnaround schools independently and should count on team leaders and veteran teachers to share the responsibility. A focus on literacy was an essential ingredient, as problems in reading and writing can be directly related to low achievement scores. Additional learning time, such as before and after school programs, Saturday programs, and summer programs, were characteristic of the turnaround schools, as were programs for struggling students, such as English language learners. Efforts were made in all 15 schools to promote teamwork of staff. Ubiquitous data sharing became part of school cultures. Continuous staff development based on student needs was provided. The frequent review of content and continuous assessments, as well as intensified efforts to inform and engage parents and community members were essential. These findings are specifically related to elementary schools, which as the author states, are becoming much more complex organizationally. Comprehensive change was necessary to turn around these low-performing elementary schools.


Duke, D. L. (2006). What we know and don't know about improving low-performing schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(10), 729-734.

This literature review is based on five studies of school turnaround published between 1999 and 2004. It discusses the critical elements to improving academic achievement in low-performing schools: (a) assistance to students; (b) collaboration of teachers; (c) data-driven decision-making; (d) leadership; (e) organizational structure; (f) staff development; (g) alignment of tests, curriculum and instruction, and assessment; (h) high expectations; (i) parent involvement; and (j) scheduling. Duke also raises questions that could help shed light on the gaps in understanding school improvement. He recommends future research be conducted to better understand the process of school decline, the nature of teamwork, the effectiveness of specific interventions, midcourse corrections, unanticipated consequences, and specific personnel issues. The questions Duke raises offer possibilities for future investigations by researchers, schools, or teachers.


Edmunds, J. A., & McColskey, W. (September 2007). Levers for change: Southeast region state initiatives to improve high schools. (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2007-No. 024). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast. Retrieved from reference link.

Strategies related to high school reform were examined in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Six "levers for change" were identified through discussions with state department of education contacts conducted during, or prior to, the 2006-2007 school year and through a review of state department of education websites. Research studies and findings on the connection between each of the levers and student outcomes were provided. The six levers include (a) alignment of standards and assessments with expectations of post-secondary education and 21st century skills; (b) revising course requirements to include those courses and sequences required for college and that have connections to work readiness; (c) increasing students' access and support to courses; (d) creating model schools or practices; (e) building capacity of local schools and districts by providing professional development, coaches, or technical assistance teams; and (f) establishing partnerships and promoting visibility to support high school reform. The authors present an "evidence-based decision-making cycle" to encourage states to use data to examine needs and identify possible solutions. After reviewing studies and others' experiences with those solutions, the next steps include making a choice using evidence (as well as considering demographics and context), monitoring and evaluating implementation, and revising thinking if needed. This cycle of ongoing reflection may prove useful to states in their selection of school improvement initiatives.


Finnigan, K. S., & Daly, A. J. (2012). Mind the gap: Organizational learning and improvement in an underperforming urban system. American Journal of Education, 119, 41-71. Retrieved from reference link.

Using a case-study design in one urban school district, the authors investigate the school improvement process, social relationships, and climate that support organizational learning and school improvement for schools under sanction. The findings indicate that negative relationships between district and school administrators undermine improvement in schools under sanction. According to the authors, the quality of social relationships across and between school levels plays a crucial role in a school's capacity for improvement.


Finnigan, K. S., Daly, A. J., & Stewart, T. J. (2012). Organizational learning in schools under sanction. Education Research International, 2012(270404), 1-10. doi:10.1155/2012/270404

This research article describes the process through which staff members in schools under sanction diagnose problems, search for solutions, and operate as learning organizations. A mixed-method approach was used to determine teacher processes through document analysis, case studies, and surveys. The authors found that teachers in schools under sanction (a) rarely diagnose the root cause of low performance, (b) recycle instructional practices that already exist within the school (from teachers and administrators) with little exploration outside of school, and (c) lack organizational learning. These three findings, according to the authors, make it difficult to turn around persistently low-achieving schools.


Grissom, J. A., & Loeb, S. (2011). Triangulating principal effectiveness: How perspectives of parents, teaches, and assistant principals identify the central importance of managerial skills. American Educational Research Journal. Advance online publication. Retrieved from reference link.

This research article investigates which principal skills correlate most highly with school outcomes or school improvement. A mixed-method approach (combining surveys, district administrative data, and factor analysis) was used to determine that a principal's organization management skills predict student achievement and other success measures. However, according to the authors, a principal's effectiveness in eliciting positive school outcomes through organization management must be measured in conjunction with other dimensions of principal effectiveness (e.g., instructional management, internal and external relations, and administration). This article provides a starting point for school-level administrators as they assess their contribution to school outcomes.


Hallinger, P. & Heck., R. H. (2010). Collaborative leadership and school improvement: Understanding the impact on school capacity and student learning. School Leadership and Management, 30(2), 95-110. Retrieved from reference link.

Authors tested multiple conceptual models of leadership and learning using latent change analysis, a type of structural equation modeling used for investigating longitudinal data. A longitudinal cohort of third grade students from198 primary schools was randomly selected. Data on leadership and school improvement capacity were collected from teachers' perceptions on three occasions over a four-year period. Findings revealed that leadership and school improvement capacity were linked growth in one related to positive change in the other. The indirect feedback loop of collaborative leadership, through school improvement capacity, to student growth in reading and math was confirmed. Also, while both mutually affect each other, the impact of the school's culture on leadership was greater than vice versa. Implications stated by the authors are that (a) leadership by itself is not enough to bring about improvement in learning outcomes it must be coupled with school improvement capacity and (b) the nature of leadership and its impact are shaped by historical and current conditions in the school. The value of this study is that it extends previous research. Understanding that school capacity shapes and is shaped by the school's collective leadership provides evidence to support reform initiatives that build capacity of leaders and schools simultaneously.


Harris, J., Davidson, L., Hayes, B., Humphreys, K., LaMarca, P., Berliner, B., a_Van Houten, L. (2014). Speak Out, Listen Up! Tools for using student perspectives and local data for school improvement (REL 2014 035). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, Regional Educational Laboratory Program website: reference link.

This report describes a toolkit for gathering student perspectives on school improvement efforts. The toolkit contains three tools: (a) Analyzing Surveys with Kids, (b) Inside-Outside Fishbowl, and (c) Students Studying Students' Stories. The Speak Out, Listen Up! toolkit is designed to facilitate collaboration between educators and students in finding new ways to improve schools. District-level administrators, school-level administrators, and teachers may find this toolkit helpful in generating new ideas for a more comprehensive school improvement plan.


Henderson, A. (2013). High-impact family engagement: A core strategy for school improvement. In A powerful impact: The importance of engaging parents, families and communities in improving student success (pp. 8-11). London, England: GEMS Education Solutions. Retrieved from reference link.

This paper stresses the importance of family engagement in promoting student reading and math achievement, and school improvement. It also provides information on how family engagement practices can be sustained. The author contends that (a) building personal relationships with families, (b) sharing student level data, (c) modeling teacher practice for families, and (d) incorporating family interests with school objectives have a positive impact on student achievement. The author also suggested five factors that are essential to sustaining school-family relationships. The five factors are Create a definition of high-impact family engagement. Overcome teachers' reluctance in speaking with parents. Promote family-school partnerships where teachers can identify and understand a family's cultural lens. Cultivate school-family partnerships where a school's culture is examined by parents and community members and where parents and school staff engage in open communication regarding student success. Make parent and family engagement central to improving student achievement. Although the literature suggests that there is no statistical significant evidence to advocate for school-parent partnerships, this author claims that there is evidence to the contrary.


Herman, R., Dawson, P., Dee, T., Greene, J., Maynard, R., Redding, S., & Darwin, M. (2008). Turning around chronically low-performing schools: A practice guide (NCEE #2008-4020). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from reference link.

This guide was based on 10 case studies across 35 schools, including elementary, middle, and high schools that improved achievement in one to three years. Four recommended strategies include (a) signaling the need for dramatic change with strong leadership, (b) maintaining a consistent focus on improving instruction, (c) providing visible improvements early in the turnaround process (quick wins), and (d) building a committed staff. The corresponding level of evidence to support each of the recommendations is low, meaning the recommendations are based on expert opinion from strong findings or theories in related areas. A checklist is provided as a practical resource for carrying out the recommendations. This guide may be useful to district officials and school level administrators.


Huberman, M., Parrish, T., Arellanes, M., Gonzalez, R., & Scala, J. (2012). Raising all boats: Identifying and profiling high-performing California school districts. Retrieved from California Comprehensive Center website: reference link.

This study provides an understanding of the district's role in school improvement and factors that contribute to the success of California school districts that are identified as "raising all boats." These high performing school districts, individual schools, and student subgroups are found to perform better than predicted compared to similar districts over a four-year period. Six disparate high-performing unified school districts were used to identify strategies that were effective in contributing to district, school, and student success. Based on interviews with district and school leaders, four effective strategies emerged: Articulate a clear instructional vision at the district and school level. Provide teacher professional development to support all students, particularly struggling students. Have strong and committed leadership at the school and district levels. Establish and sustain productive districtwide collaboration. The four challenges that impeded success were budget cuts, appropriate differentiation instruction to meet the academic needs of all students, resistance to change from instructional and administrative staff, and union regulations. Although the aforementioned strategies and challenges were common across all districts under study, the implementation of these strategies and the ability to overcome challenges depended on district context.


Kowal, J. M. & Hassel, E. A. (2005). School restructuring options under No Child Left Behind: What works when? Turnarounds with new leaders and staff. Washington, DC: The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. Retrieved from reference link.

This paper is one in a series of five that focuses on turnarounds. Authors conducted a review of the literature on effective turnaround strategies and turnaround leaders across industries, contrasting it with research on incremental change. National experts familiar with school turnaround were interviewed by phone. A definition of turnaround is offered and examples of turnarounds in the public and nonprofit sectors are provided. Key factors, including governance, environmental factors, leadership factors, and organizational factors that impact success or failure are discussed. This paper is a precursor to the 2007 review of cross-sector evidence by Rhim, Kowal, Hassel, & Hassel, and the 2008 School Turnaround Leaders: Competencies for success by Steiner, Hassel, & Hassel.


Kowal, J., & Ableidinger, J. (2011). Leading indicators of school turnarounds: How to know when dramatic change is on track. Retrieved from University of Virginia, Darden School of Business website: reference link.

The authors examined the merits of using the concept of leading indicators, which are widely used in business, as a school turnaround strategy because they provide early signs to whether new initiatives will succeed or fail. The principles upon which leading indicators rest are identifying known factors that elicit success, reevaluating indicators to ensure their ability to predict success, tailoring indicators to fit objectives and setting, and fitting specific timelines. The authors found that a school leader's competence (e.g., ensuring school goals align with classroom instruction), monitoring skills to improve the organization (e.g., leading turnaround through the use of motivation and maneuvering) and support from external stakeholders are crucial to school turnaround success. A set of school indicators may include a competency rating for school leaders and an evaluation about how the leader engages in action that promotes school turnaround. The authors also report that federal, state, and local education leaders should become familiar with elements of successful school turnaround, monitor school progress, take concrete action on both successful and failed indicators, and use school data to determine which indicators have a positive effect on school turnaround. Although the authors identified several leading indicators that may be applicable to education, they call upon education leaders to develop a larger set of leading indicators that are unique to school turnaround.


Kutash, J., Nico, E., Gorin, E., Rahmatullah, S., & Tallant, K. (2010). The school turnaround field guide. Retrieved from reference link.

This report is based on over 100 interviews, a review of secondary reports and articles, as well as a synthesis of discussions from attendees of the "Driving Dramatic School Improvement Conference" co-hosted by Foundation Strategy Group (FSG) Social Impact Advisors and Stanford Social Innovation Review. The report is divided into two main parts: (a) Understanding the Landscape, where the definition of turnaround, measures of success, and the role of the federal government are discussed and (b) Shaping the Future of Turnaround, where lessons learned from the school-level and system-level are provided, key issues and gaps are discussed, and actions are recommended. The three areas of school-level lessons, for example, included planning, human capital, and maintaining support and building sustainability. Key gaps are identified in the areas of (a) capacity, (b) funding, (c) public and political will, (d) conditions in districts and states, (e) research and knowledge sharing of effective turnaround interventions, and (f) high school and rural school turnarounds. This report provides a comprehensive overview of the issues surrounding turnaround.


LeFloch, K. C., & Barbour, C. (2014). Working together: Building effective school turnaround partnerships. Retrieved from American Institutes for Research, District & School Improvement Center website: reference link.

Through original research, informal feedback, and experience, this white paper provides recommendations and considerations for school administrators when working with external partners. This white paper answers two questions: How does a school determine choose a partner? How do school administrators make these relationships successful? In answering these questions, the authors provide some considerations for school leaders. Prior to selecting a partner, schools must consider Provider fit how well does the partner's expertise match the needs of the school? Coherence can the provider support the school and district vision? Intensity how frequent should the partner engage in school activities? Responsiveness how available is the partner in meeting school needs? Stability how consistent is the partner's support? In order to sustain a partnership, schools and partners must build mutual trust, gain rapid successes, and identify challenges to school success. Working with external partners in a school turnaround context requires additional considerations due to district and school conditions. Schools administrators should consider the amount of available resources, timing, whether there are policy constraints to school turnaround efforts, and how they plan to build a sense of urgency to implement positive change. External partners can be important in assisting school turnaround by providing additional resources to support school initiatives.


Louis, K. S., Leithwood, K., Wahlstrom, K. L., Anderson, S. E., Michlin, M., Mascall, B., & Moore, S. (2010). Learning from leadership: Investigating the links to improved student learning. Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement/University of Minnesota, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto. Retrieved from reference link.

This report of a six-year study focuses on leadership at the school, district, and state levels. These authors used mixed methods to collect data from 9 states, 43 school districts, and 180 elementary, middle and secondary schools. The state sampling process involved dividing the contiguous states into geographic quadrants (East, South, Midwest, and West) and randomly selecting two states from each. A ninth state was selected strategically to enhance variation on a few variables. The three parts to this report include (a) what school leaders do to improve achievement, (b) how districts foster school improvement and student learning, and (c) state leadership and relationships with districts. Implications for policy and practice are listed for school, district, and state leaders. Overall findings were that top schools benefitted from "collective leadership," where principals include teachers and other stakeholders in the decision-making process; district leaders who emphasize goals and initiatives that reach beyond minimum state expectations for student performance; and attention to multiple measures of student success. Authors claim that leadership is second only to classroom instruction in its influence on student learning as leaders create the synergy needed across multiple variables. Results confirm the interconnectedness of leadership at all levels.


Massachusetts 2020. (2011). Massachusetts expanded learning time initiative: 2010-2011 update. Retrieved from reference link.

This brief provides a snapshot of 2009-2010 results from the first cohort of the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time (ELT) Initiative. The study reveals gains in all grades for English language arts, math, and science. When compared with matched Title I schools, the ELT Title I schools had a greater proportion of "high-growth" (or median student growth percentile of 60 or higher). Other indicators of success are discussed, including enrichment opportunities; community partnerships; and time for instruction, collaboration, and professional development. Mid-course adjustments are described and resulted in (a) performance agreements, to maintain a clear focus on continuous improvement, and (b) coherent and targeted technical assistance. State test results, as well as other measures of success appear to be promising; however, continued refinement of the initiative seems necessary.


Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2012). Conditions for school effectiveness self-assessment. Malden, MA: Author. Retrieved from reference link.

This tool was designed to be used by school principals and stakeholders to identify areas of strength and areas needing deeper focus. This rubric is based on 10 conditions of school effectiveness: (a) effective school leadership; (b) aligned curriculum; (c) effective instruction; (d) student assessment; (e) principal's staffing authority; (f) professional development and structures for collaboration; (g) tiered instruction and adequate learning time; (h) students' social, emotional, and health needs; (i) family-school engagement; and (j) strategic use of resources and adequate budget authority. Items corresponding to each of the conditions are rated on a scale of 1(little evidence) to 4 (sustaining). Resources aligned with the 10 conditions are also provided. This tool may serve useful to school-level personnel in examining current practice.


Massell, D., Goertz, M. E., & Barnes, C. A. (in press). State education agencies' acquisition and use of research knowledge for school improvement. Peabody Journal of Education. Retrieved from reference link.

This article examines how state education agencies (SEA) collect information, conduct research, and integrate knowledge to support school improvement efforts. The article also highlights the importance of establishing social networks or communities of practice to create a knowledge store in order to facilitate effective policy toward improving schools. The authors argue that these networks undergird the process of knowledge acquisition and policy development. The process of knowledge utilization that shapes education policy is 1. the acquisition of knowledge 2. the exchange of knowledge 3. the establishment of networks for managing and using knowledge 4. the political and contextual use of knowledge Through in-depth interviews with three SEAs, the authors found that (a) knowledge acquisition drew heavily from colleagues within an agency, while at the same time, reached out to external practitioners for additional guidance or assistance in school improvement, and (b) networks within and across departments or agencies are essential to building capacity for SEA staff to take action in facilitating school improvement efforts. This article touts the benefits of collaborative work relationships within and between internal and external agencies for effective knowledge utilization.


Mathis, W. J. (2009). NCLB's ultimate restructuring alternatives: Do they improve the quality of education? Retrieved from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice website: reference link.

This policy brief reviews the literature on school restructuring options and provides recommendations designed to facilitate school improvement. According to the authors, there is little evidence that any restructuring options (e.g., turning school operations over to the state or replacing an underperforming school with a charter school) work in improving low-performing schools. It is recommended that policy makers (a) refrain from restructuring schools, (b) find alternative school improvement strategies, (c) provide technical assistance, and (d) use research-based strategies that have demonstrated significant school improvement.


Maxwell, G. M., Huggins, K. S., & Scheurich, J. J. (2010). How one historically underperforming diverse rural high school achieved a successful turnaround. Planning and Changing, 41(3/4), 161-186. Retrieved from reference link.

This case study was based on 13 face-to-face hour-long interviews. After hiring a new principal in March 2005, firing one-half of the teaching staff, and hiring an external coach and internal coaches, a needs assessment was conducted. Results showed positive changes in improving community and student perceptions, providing professional development, and making logistical changes to the school day to meet student instructional needs. A professional learning community model was used as the primary form of professional development. This rural turnaround demonstrates the power of professional learning communities in achieving school reform.


May, J., & Sanders, G. (2013). Beyond standardized test scores: An examination of leadership and climate as leading indicators of future success in the transformation of turnaround schools. Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research, 9, 43-55. Retrieved from reference link.

This quantitative research study emphasizes the importance of using school leadership and school climate as indices of effective school turnaround in addition to standardized test scores. This study examined 16 underperforming turnaround and traditional schools and compared them on three factors: (a) school leadership, (b) school climate, and (c) student achievement. Although teachers in turnaround schools rated their schools higher on leadership and climate than teachers at traditional schools, the turnaround schools' academic scores continued to lag behind traditional schools. According to the authors, rating a school based only on test scores nullifies the importance of effective leadership and a positive school climate on student academic success.


Mayer, A., & LeChasseur, K. (2013). Caught in the middle: Urban principals' attempts to achieve school autonomy and devolve decision-making. Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research, 9, 33-55. Retrieved from reference link.

This research article examines urban elementary principals' implementation of the Together Initiative (TI), a school turnaround model that is characterized by increased school autonomy and devolving decision-making to teachers. The purpose of this article is two-fold: (a) to investigate how distributed leadership manifests itself in low-performing schools and (b) to explore which leadership characteristics and contextual factors explain variations in the principals' success in implementing the initiative. This two-year, mixed-method, comparative case study evaluated four urban K-8 turnaround schools. Using surveys, interviews, and observations, the authors found the implementation of the Together Initiative is contingent upon the principal's level of support at the district level and the principal's commitment to the tenets of the initiative.


McMurrer, J. (2012). Changing the school climate is the first step to reform in many schools with federal improvement grants. Retrieved from George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Center on Education Policy website: reference link.

This research addresses the importance of school climate in school reform initiatives by documenting the first year experiences of six school improvement grant (SIG) recipients in Maryland, Michigan, and Idaho. The author posits that the role of school climate plays an important role in overall school success and that federal and state policy makers should consider school climate as part of the SIG grant evaluation process. A positive school climate includes creating and sustaining positive relationships among and between students and staff as well as providing supports that facilitate a productive learning environment. Using case studies and interviews that were carried out during the 2010-2011 school year, the authors found that (a) all six schools have taken steps to improve school climate, (b) schools used several strategies to improve school climate, and (c) administrators and teachers agreed that improving school climate was their greatest success. The findings also indicated that a positive school environment fosters staff collaboration, student motivation, and student achievement.


McMurrer, J. (2012). Increased learning time under stimulus-funded school improvement grants: High hopes, varied implementation. Retrieved from George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Center on Education Policy website: reference link.

This research examines the implementation of increased learning time for schools receiving school improvement grant (SIG) funds. The authors contend that programs that increase learning time for students improve academic performance. Evidence from surveys and case studies of schools in Maryland, Michigan, and Idaho confirms that schools under the turnaround or transformation model that have adopted the increased learning time requirement improved student achievement. This study provides additional evidence for extending learning time as a strategy in improving student academic achievement.


McMurrer, J. (2012). Schools with federal improvement grants face challenges in replacing principals and teachers. Retrieved from George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Center on Education Policy website: reference link.

This report describes the challenges in implementing school improvement grant (SIG) models that require replacing school principals and most, if not all, staff because of the difficulty in recruiting qualified school administrators and instructional personnel to low-performing schools. Using results from two Centers on Education Policy (CEP) studies, the report concluded that Qualified principals and teachers are critical to effectively implementing school turnaround. Principal and instructional staff retention is difficult for SIG schools due to competition from other schools and school districts whose working conditions are perceived to support a better quality of life. State and union policies make replacing ineffective teachers difficult. The short timeline between SIG award notification and the start of the school year make having strong principals and instructional staff in place difficult. High principal and teacher turnover in low-performing schools prevent reforms from taking hold, making it more difficult to attract high quality principals and teachers. Few states assist SIG-funded schools in recruiting high quality principals and instructional staff Lack of flexibility in hiring principals and staff impede SIG effectiveness. Although the report presents barriers to attracting new principals and staff, it encourages policy makers to consider these challenges when making or amending school turnaround legislation.


McMurrer, J. (2012). Special reports on school improvement grants. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy. Retrieved from reference link.

McMurrer authored three reports based on (a) a survey of state education officials in 46 responding states, including the District of Columbia, and (b) case studies of the first year and a half of School Improvement Grant (SIG) implementation in Maryland, Michigan, and Idaho. In the first report, titled Changing the School Climate is the First Step to Reform in Many Schools with Federal Improvement Grants, interviews were conducted with 35 state, district, and school officials in the three states. Strategies for improving school culture are discussed, including improving safety, discipline, and student engagement; establishing a shared vision centered on student achievement among teachers, parents, and students; hiring behavior specialists or social workers; providing outreach through community coordinators, holding student-led conferences with families and teachers; establishing programs for parents; instituting school uniforms; and increasing teacher collaboration. One key finding was that after one year of SIG implementation, improvements in school climate was the area of greatest success. The value of this study is in the alternate strategies provided to increase school success that can, in turn, impact test scores. In the second report, titled Schools with Federal Improvement Grants Face Challenges in Replacing Principals and Teachers, one of the five main findings included the challenge of retaining highly effective principals and teachers for SIG schools in the case study states. Attracting and retaining principals and teachers was problematic in both rural and urban areas. These findings have important implications regarding requirements of the transformation and turnaround models. In the third report, titled Increased Learning Time Under Stimulus-funded School Improvement Grants: High Hopes, Varied Implementation, there were four major findings, one of which was the perception that increased learning time is a key element in increasing student achievement even though it is being implemented a variety of ways. While increased learning time is perceived to be a promising strategy, respondents also stated that it is too soon to determine the impact. The variety in strategies described and used by the case study schools could serve as practices for other schools


McMurrer, J., & McIntosh, S. (2012). State implementation and perceptions of Title I school improvement grants under the Recovery Act: One year later. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy. Retrieved from reference link.

State Title I directors were asked to respond to survey questions related to (a) states' processes for renewing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act School Improvement Grants (SIG) issued during the 2010-2011 school year, (b) state assistance to schools, and (c) general perceptions of the ARRA SIG program. Forty-six states responded, including the District of Columbia. Key findings revealed generally positive views about the SIG requirements concerning identification of schools, the amount of funding, and the competitive grant process. The transformation model was the preferred model by most respondents. More than half (26 of 45) reported that the transformation model is effective in improving student achievement to a great extent or some extent. All of the respondents reported providing technical assistance to SIG funded schools. The top five types of assistance offered to SIG districts and schools by states included (a) technical support (46 states), (b) increased monitoring and data review for Round 1 ARRA SIG participating schools (40 states), (c) information on best practices for low-performing schools (35 states), (d) guidance on selecting school intervention models (33 states), and (e) professional development for principals and/or other administrators in participating schools (31 states). More than half of the respondents indicated they have an adequate level of staff expertise in the state education agency to assist SIG recipients. Lastly, thirty-two states reported that external providers played a role in implementing the SIG program during the first year of funding. The most common theme regarding suggested changes to SIG revolved around allowing more time for capacity-building and making preparations to sustain these reforms after SIG funding ends. This study provides a high-level view of perceptions of the SIG program at the state level.


Meyers, C. V., & Murphy, J. (2007). Turning around failing schools: An analysis. Journal of School Leadership, 17(5), 631-659.

This paper contains a review of literature on K-12 education from 1995-2006 using key words such as "turnaround," "school failure," and "low-performing schools." The authors offer external and internal causes for school failure. In addition, they discuss responses to failure by type (school improvement planning, expert assistance, provision of choice, provision of supplemental services, adoption of a reform model, and reconstitution) and by level (federal, state, city, and district). One of the major implications based on the turnaround literature included establishing a clear definition of failing schools. Three factors considered to be significant in this area were (a) test score patterns, (b) value-added measures, and (c) issues of equity. While this critical analysis offers a comprehensive picture of the turnaround landscape, the strategies discussed are not focused on the school level.


Michigan Department of Education. (2006). Michigan school improvement framework. Lansing, MI: Author. Retrieved from reference link.

This comprehensive framework, based on research and best practice, contains five strands: (a) teaching for learning, (b) leadership, (c) personnel and professional learning, (d) school and community relations, and (e) data and information management. Corresponding standards and benchmarks are provided for each of the strands, along with sample discussion questions for schools and districts. Schools may find the discussion questions useful in guiding the development of school improvement plans or enhancing existing plans.


Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. (2005). McREL Insights: Schools that "beat the odds". Aurora, CO: Author. Retrieved from reference link.

This study was conducted in 76 high-needs elementary schools (49 high-performing, 27 low-performing) from 10 states. Authors tested a conceptual model of effective schools that included four components: School Environment, Instruction, Professional Community, and Leadership. The two major findings were that high- and low-performing schools are not organized differently and the difference between and high- and low- is found in the influence of each component. Also, high-performing schools have a more supportive school environment, more effective instructional practices, and stronger leadership. Findings suggest a focus on multiple factors simultaneously, or a systems approach, to beat the odds'.


Mourshed, M., Chijioke, C., & Barber, M. (2010). How the world's most improved school systems keep getting better. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from reference link.

The purpose of this study was to determine the elements that allow a school system to improve. Authors examined twenty educational systems across five continents. Researchers analyzed student outcomes on various international and national assessments across multiple subjects and school levels from 1995-2010. Over 200 individuals, including leaders, staff, and educators were interviewed. A database of 575 interventions was created, based on the interviews, and examined. Main findings revealed two types of interventions that systems were using: (a) performance stage specific strategies (where interventions used varied by system rating poor, fair, good, great) and (b) cross-stage strategies (interventions that applied to all system ratings, but manifested differently during each stage). The six cross-stage interventions that occurred across all performance stages included (a) revising curriculum and standards; (b) reviewing reward and remuneration structure; (c) building technical skills of teachers and principals, often through group or cascaded training; (d) assessing student learning; (e) establishing data systems and utilizing student data to guide delivery; and (f) establishing policy documents and education laws to facilitate improvement. Authors note that history, culture, structure and politics come into play in contextualizing the interventions. Also, authors state that school system leaders would be better off in seeking support from similarly rated systems. These findings have implications for school improvement leaders when selecting strategies unique to their contexts, as needs will change over time.


National School Climate Center. (2008). The comprehensive school climate inventory. New York, New York: Author. Retrieved from reference link.

This school climate survey assesses the perceptions of students (grades 3-12), parents, and school personnel. Dimensions of the survey are categorized into four domains: (a) safety (includes rules and norms, sense of physical security, and sense of social-emotional security), (b) teaching and learning (includes support for learning and social and civic learning), (c) interpersonal relationships (includes respect for diversity, social support-adults, and social support-students), and (d) institutional environment (includes school connectedness/engagement and physical surroundings). The last two dimensions, completed by staff only, are leadership and professional relationships. Currently in its third edition, this instrument has been researched and developed over the past 10 years and is currently used by the Ohio and Iowa State Departments of Education. This tool may serve useful to school-level personnel interested in obtaining an in-depth profile of its strengths and needs related to school climate.


Nocera, E. J., Whitbread, K. M., & Nocera, G. P. (2014). Impact of school-wide positive behavior supports on student behavior in the middle grades. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 37(8), 1-14. Retrieved from reference link.

This study addresses the use of school-wide positive behavior supports (SWPBS) as part of a comprehensive school improvement process. A two-year, mixed-method, case study evaluated one low-performing Connecticut middle school. Using administrative and teacher interviews, and student discipline reports, the authors found that SWPBS facilitated a reduction in teacher discipline referrals and student suspensions.


O'Neal, D. (2013). Commonalities of Georgia's successful elementary schools: Analyses of Georgia's high performing elementary schools. Retrieved from Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education website: reference link.

This report evaluates seven elementary schools that have demonstrated continuous school improvement over a four-year period. The report identifies successful school practices, programs, and characteristics that promote school improvement. Using state-level student data and interviews from educators and school leaders, the most frequently cited indicators of school success were a positive school climate and a focus on student learning through differentiating instruction. Although there was a plethora of strategies and processes that were used to improve school performance, the author provides specific recommendations for continuous school improvement. These recommendations are: Identify struggling students and students that are performing on grade level or above, and plan instruction accordingly. Group students by ability. Plan effective instruction. Improve decision-making in terms of policy and practice. Design assessments and provide resources that are closely aligned to the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards. Form school-business and community partnerships. Implement the continuous school improvement process. Provide high quality professional development. Stay abreast of current research.


Ouchi, W. G. (2009). The secret of TSL: The revolutionary discovery that raises school performance. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.

This book describes findings from interviews and visits of 422 schools in eight urban school districts: Boston, New York, Chicago, St. Paul, Houston, San Francisco, Oakland, and Seattle. The author discusses how giving principals more autonomy over their budget allows them to hire more teachers, reduce total student load (TSL), and increase teacher-student relationships. This, in turn, has a direct correlation with student performance. Ouchi identifies Five Pillars of School Empowerment: (a) real choices for families; (b) empowering schools with control over budget, staffing, curriculum, and scheduling (termed collectively as the four freedoms); (c) effective principals; (d) a system of accountability; and (e) weighted student formula budgeting. Seven lessons learned from the district are discussed, including (a) big districts need small schools; (b) the four freedoms must be aligned; (c) steps should be taken to reorganize the central office; (d) leaders must be students of change; (e) the infrastructure of accountability is crucial; (f) site-based management corrupts accountability, but has some advantages; and (g) continuity of governance is a big issue. The steps taken by these eight major cities towards decentralization could prove useful in replicating this reform strategy elsewhere.


Perlman, C. L., & Redding, S. (Eds.). (2011). Handbook on effective implementation of school improvement grants. Lincoln, Illinois: Center on Innovation and Improvement. Retrieved from reference link.

This tool is listed on the U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grants site as a technical assistance document. The handbook was developed by five national content centers to support implementation of School Improvement Grants (SIGs). This resource is divided into two parts. "Part I: Identifying Need, Selecting Interventions, and Differentiating Supports" explains the purpose of SIG, how to identify LEAs or schools for improvement, and selecting interventions, differentiating supports, and monitoring progress. "Part II: Implementing Improvement Strategies" offers specific strategies for the SEA, LEAs, and schools accompanied by the related research and additional resources. Schools, districts, and states may find this useful in selecting strategies for quickly improving schools that are persistently low-performing.


Player, D., & Katz, V. (2014, October). Assessing school turnaround: Evidence from Ohio. In A. Ross (Chair), Economics seminar series, Symposium conducted at the meeting of West Virginia University College of Business and Economics, Morgantown, WV. Retrieved from reference link.

This paper evaluates the efficacy of the School Turnaround Specialist Program (STSP) in low-performing schools. STSP consists of three concepts (a) effective leadership, (b) district and school partnership, and (c) data-driven decision making. Using a quasi-experimental design of 20 low-performing schools in Ohio, the findings indicate a substantial and sustained improvement in overall student achievement compared to similar schools across grades and subjects. It was also found that the rate of student improvement of STSP schools outpaced that of non-STSP schools in the same district. The authors contend that positive and meaningful change can happen in a short period of time due to leadership practices and external partnerships.


Player, D., Hitt, D. H., & Robinson, W. (2014). District readiness to support school turnaround: A users' guide to inform the work of state education agencies and districts. Retrieved from The Center on School Turnaround website: reference link.

This user's guide discusses the readiness of state education agencies (SEAs) and districts (LEAs) in becoming the lead partner in school turnaround. Recommendations for district-led turnaround initiatives come from the University of Virginia's School Turnaround Program. The authors contend that there are four areas that districts should assess prior to initiating school turnaround: Leadership the district sets performance standards, monitors progress and works closely with schools to facilitate turnaround success. Infrastructure to provide differentiated support districts should provide differentiated coaching and problem-solving support that meets school needs. Personnel management districts should redeploy the most talented school staff to turnaround schools and provide them the infrastructure to establish close communication between teachers, school administrators, and the district, while providing appropriate professional development. Instructional support districts should implement data structures to allow schools and districts regular, ongoing review of student progress. These four levers of district readiness are discussed in more detail along with questions to consider when assessing district readiness for school turnaround.


Regenstein, E., Romero-Jurado, R., Cohen, J., & Segal, A. (2014). Changing the metrics of turnaround to encourage early learning strategies. Retrieved from The Ounce website: reference link.

This policy brief argues that high-quality early learning is a viable strategy for turning around low-performing schools. The authors suggest that federal and state governments reevaluate their metrics for turnaround success to include early learning in order to provide children with a foundation for academic success, while facilitating school improvement. The new metrics would address professional practice in terms of classroom instruction and other measures beyond standardized test scores. Using these new metrics will allow stakeholders the ability to investigate the impact of early learning, and its long-term effects on student achievement. The authors contend that using 3rd grade test performance as a measure of turnaround success is a disincentive to invest in early learning. Instead, the authors believe funding streams should begin for children as early as three-years old because investments in early learning can make a difference in children's ability to learn throughout their academic career.


Rhim, L. M. (2012). No time to lose: Turnaround leader performance assessment. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Darden School Foundation. Retrieved from reference link.

This article provides a rationale for turnaround leader assessments with the understanding that rapid change is possible within two years. The author states the impact of leadership on student achievement, including the detrimental impact of tolerating poor performance. In addition, seven critical action steps to increase the success rate of turnaround efforts are provided. The seven steps are to (a) intentionally recruit and assign school leaders with demonstrated turnaround competencies; (b) identify key priorities and clearly outline specific performance expectations; (c) establish an infrastructure that allows for collaboration among turnaround leaders, accountability of leaders, and supports to initiate and sustain effective turnaround; (d) collect data related to leading indicators, including key turnaround actions; (e) assess leaders' performance according to identified expectations at 18 months and again at 24 months into the turnaround initiative; (f) decide whether to retain school leaders based on tangible evidence of performance; and (g) reward and support successful leaders to build a foundation to sustain turnaround. This article could be useful to district leaders in providing suggestions regarding the steps they can take to hold turnaround leaders accountable.


Rhim, L. M. (LMR Consulting). (2011). Learning how to dance in the Queen City: Cincinnati public schools' turnaround initiative. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education. Retrieved from reference link.

This case study describes the Cincinnati Public Schools' turnaround effort the Elementary Initiative which began in the fall of 2008 in 16 schools. The principals of these schools participated in the University of Virginia-School Turnaround Specialist Program. The study is based on interviews with key personnel in the central office and schools, and with turnaround team members. Steps to developing a turnaround plan and implementing the turnaround strategy with fidelity are discussed. These steps included (a) conducting a district-wide school performance audit, (b) designing the turnaround elements, or the Elementary Initiative, (c) determining the model-redesign or school turnaround, and (d) engaging external partners. The highlights of this successful turnaround initiative were the partnerships created between the district, the external consultant, school leaders, and teachers.


Rhim, L. M., & Redding, S. (Eds.). (2014). The state role in school turnaround: Emerging best practices. San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Retrieved from reference link.

State education agencies (SEA) are responsible for providing regulatory monitoring and assisting local education agencies and individual schools with supports in implementing school turnaround initiatives, in terms of reviewing and updating current policies that promote turnaround efforts and providing current research on effective practices. This book provides SEAs with current best practices for turning around low-performing schools. Relying on contributions from turnaround experts, Rhim and Redding's book is organized into four main sections: (a) supporting schools and districts in school turnaround, (b) creating a political environment that supports school turnaround, (c) managing effective school turnaround, and (d) providing appropriate technical assistance. Although the research on effective school turnaround is evolving, this book argues that SEAs play a critical role in affecting school turnaround.


Rhim, L. M., Kowal, J. M., Hassel, B. C., & Hassel, E. A. (2007). School turnarounds: A review of the cross-sector evidence on dramatic organizational improvement. Chapel Hill, NC: Public Impact. Retrieved from reference link.

Authors examined turnarounds in business, education, government, non-profit, and multi-sectors. After reviewing 59 documents, they identified 14 leadership actions that fall into four categories: (a) analysis and problem solving, (b) driving for results, (c) measuring and reporting, and (d) influencing inside and outside the organization (in which the first three categories are infused). The two broad themes of environmental context and leadership provide the structure for the review. Under the environmental context, factors that influence successful turnaround included: (a) timetable, (b) freedom to act, (c) support and aligned systems, (d) performance monitoring, and (e) community engagement. Under leadership, the two actions that stood out were concentrating on achieving a few, tangible wins in the first year and implementing strategies even when they require deviation from current organization policies. These findings are consistent with the IES practice guide by Herman, Dawson, Dee, Greene, Maynard, Redding, & Darwin (2008). This review was listed in the references of the IES practice guide.


Rieckhoff, B. S., & Larsen, C. (2012). The impact of a professional development network on leadership development and school improvement goals. Schools University Partnerships, 5(1), 57-73. Retrieved from reference link.

This article seeks to determine the effectiveness of a Professional Development School (PDS) partnership on leadership development for principals and teachers. The PDS partnership consists of a large, private, urban university and seven area schools. The authors used surveys and interviews to document the impact and perspectives of PDS partnership participants as they go through the three-year program. Participants indicated positive change in their ability to refine, discuss, and meet school improvement goals. They also reported increased capacity to change school culture with regard to shared decision-making.


Robinson, W. S., & Buntrock, L. M. (2011). Turnaround necessities. The School Administrator, 68(3), 22-27. Retrieved from reference link.

This article discusses six lessons for school district turnaround efforts, emphasizing the importance of district involvement and support. Lessons are as follows: (a) develop a comprehensive turnaround plan and implementation strategy; (b) from the highest levels, provide clear, visible support for dramatic change; (c) recognize the vital importance of leadership; (d) provide systemic support around instructional strategies; (e) provide principals with the freedom to act; and (f) school turnarounds must start at the district level. Examples of schools that participated in the University of Virginia - School Turnaround Leadership Program are provided to demonstrate key actions related to the lessons. These recommendations for turnaround are based on the authors' work in 43 school districts and 123 schools that participated in the program and saw more than a 40% rise in average proficiency after two years. As stated by the authors, districts that used a systemic approach experienced even more significant results.


Rocha, E. (2008). Expanded learning time in action: Initiatives in high-poverty and high-minority school districts. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from reference link.

In this study, researchers engaged in phone interviews with school and district personnel, state administrators, and agency personnel. The author provides profiles of charter, traditional public schools, and district initiatives. Three key findings include (a) charter schools are leading the effort in expanding learning time and are adding time in significant ways (well beyond the 30% required to meet the definition used by the author); (b) learning time is added to the school calendar by adding longer school days, weeks, years, or a combination of these; and (c) school implementation of additional learning time varies in focus, content, and structure based on student needs. The profiles described within offer useful examples for expanded learning time initiatives in high-poverty, high-minority populations that similar schools and districts may want to consider.


Rosenberg, C. (2012). Using great teaching to overcome poverty. Leadership, 41(3), 8-11. Retrieved from reference link.

The author describes his own efforts in turning around a low-performing elementary school by focusing on literacy instructional practices. As principal of John Muir Elementary School, he found that successful school turnaround includes targeting one attainable goal at a time, developing a school plan that enhances the probability for success, aligning district and school goals, providing district technical assistance in targeting school improvement grant spending, hiring skilled and dedicated teachers, and providing timely and appropriate high quality professional development. The author posits that long-term, school-wide, sustainable change occurs through a focused objective and a network of highly dedicated teachers and school district support. The author suggests that administrators of all levels would benefit from addressing fewer goals with as many academic supports as possible to achieve the goal. Although this article focuses on an urban elementary school principal's abilities to foster school turnaround, this research provides insight into the roles districts and schools play in coordinating resources to achieve a common purpose, namely student achievement, and illustrates the importance of leadership in effective school turnaround through planning effectively, identifying a focus, and building teacher capacity to improve instructional practices.


Ross, S. M. (2013). It takes a city to "raise" a systemic reform: Early outcomes from the Say Yes City-wide Turnaround Strategy in Syracuse. Cypriot Journal of Educational Sciences, 8(1), 63-77. Retrieved from reference link.

This paper describes a systemic urban reform initiative, The Say Yes City-wide Turnaround Strategy that is designed to prepare high school students for postsecondary education and careers through community partnerships. The City-wide Turnaround Strategy is based on five principles: Graduate from college. Establish community-university partnerships. Use data to drive decision-making. Establish transparent and sustainable fiscal management. Create collaborative government, school, and private partnerships. The authors argue that with proper planning and implementation, the vision of preparing all city-wide students for college and careers will be realized.


Roy, V., & Kochan, F. (2012). Factors that facilitated an Alabama school assistance team's success in a low-performing school. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 7(1), 1-14. Retrieved from reference link.

This qualitative case study identifies three interactive factors that enable an Alabama Schools Assistance Team (ASAT) to be successful in improving a low-performing school. The purpose of the ASAT is to help struggling schools and districts overcome barriers to student academic achievement and school success by providing technical assistance and encouraging external partnerships. Using interviews, documents, observations, and focus groups, the authors found that: (a) the ASAT's effectiveness depends on the degree of acceptance from school and district leaders in their efforts to facilitate student achievement and school improvement, (b) supportive interpersonal relationships were sought by the ASAT to deepen the camaraderie needed to improve school and student performance, and (c) a commitment to school improvement was essential to the ASAT's efforts in improving low performing schools. The authors suggest that school assistance teams should be part of an overall strategy to turn around low-performing schools.


Scott, C., Duffrin, E., Kelleher, M., & Neuman-Sheldon, B. (2009). Improving low-performing schools: Lessons from five years of studying school restructuring under No Child Left Behind. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy. Retrieved from reference link.

Lessons are based on interviews of more than 260 individuals, including state department of education officials, district and school-level administrators, teachers, and other staff in six states: Michigan, California, Georgia, Maryland, New York, and Ohio. The report has three sections: lessons for how to improve struggling schools, the impact of No Child Left Behind and related state policies on school improvement, and advice on using school improvement grant funds. Across the six states, local strategies for improving low-performing schools reveal the following: (a) schools that raised achievement enough to exit restructuring used multiple, coordinated strategies (matched to the needs of the school and students) which they revisited and changed over time to adapt to new needs and funding situations; (b) data were used frequently at least once a month to make instructional decisions and regroup students by skill level in schools that exited restructuring; (c) replacing staff helped improve many schools, but in some cases had unintended negative consequences; and (d) most schools that did not exit restructuring used similar strategies, but experienced setbacks, or needed more time or information. The value of this report is in the recommendations which are supported by the research conducted over five years in the six states. The recommendations provide guidance to states and policymakers to utilize school improvement funds in the most effective ways.


Scott, C., Krasnoff, B., & Davis, D. (2014, April). Digging into transformation: Implementation of federal school improvement grants in Oregon. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Philadelphia, PA. Retrieved from reference link.

Despite the 11 required activities associated with the transformation model, many schools receiving school improvement grants (SIG) adopt this method because of the small amount of school disruption. This report summarizes the transformation model in 17 Oregon schools. This study proposed the following questions: What positive changes have occurred as a result of SIG and what are the challenges? How has student achievement been effected? Using 2011-2012 data collected from Oregon's online school improvement planning tool (Indistar�), surveys, and publicly available school-level data, the authors found all 17 schools implemented SIG activities to varying degrees with district assistance. Most school principals thought SIG had a positive impact on teacher collaboration, school climate, and student achievement. On the other hand, schools that cited staffing issues as a challenge to school transformation were due, in part, to teacher union negotiations.


Scott, C., Parsley, D., & Fantz, T. (2014). Connections between teacher perceptions of school effectiveness and student outcomes in Idaho's low-achieving schools (REL 2014 012). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, Regional Educational Laboratory Program website: reference link.

This study provides information on how teacher perceptions of school goals, processes, and supports correlate with students' reading proficiency, math proficiency, and attendance. This quantitative research is based on the annual Educational Effectiveness Survey which gathers information on school qualities that are essential to student success, and on the use of publicly available school-level data to access students' reading proficiency, math proficiency, and attendance. The findings indicate that there is no relationship between teachers' ratings of school goals, processes, and supports and students' reading proficiency, math proficiency, or attendance. According to the authors, educators should proceed cautiously when reporting results on teacher perceptions due to the many validity issues that arise.


Silva, E. (2012). Off the clock: What more time can (and can't) do for school turnarounds. Retrieved from reference link.

This report describes the debate between extending learning time (ELT) proponents and its detractors. The author highlights three prominent options that schools receiving school improvement grant (SIG) funds use to extend learning time and briefly evaluates their effectiveness in turning around low-performing schools. Increasing time to the school day, expanding learning time outside regular school hours, and reducing non-instructional time during school hours are all viable options for ELT. SIG schools that added minutes to the school day reported that they were unable to reach the required number of hours proposed by the federal government for student academic improvement. The author surmised that adding minutes to the school day is often expensive and may require changes in teacher work schedules. Expanding time outside of school requires external relationships with organizations that can provide remediation and enrichment services to support student achievement. This option often comes with costs associated with funding, facility management, and staffing. Decreasing non-instructional time was found not to effect student achievement because the amount of time saved equated to about a day of instruction during the school year. The author reports that ELT works only as part of a comprehensive school reform initiative that focuses on teaching and learning. Therefore, schools must redesign what schooling looks like in terms of staffing, schedules, labor agreements, and compensation. As a result, ELT requires extensive planning, funding, and cooperative relationships between schools, unions, and external stakeholders.


Slotnik, W. J. (2010). Levers for change: Pathways for state-to-district assistance in underperforming school districts. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from reference link.

The author provides anecdotes and examples from working with 40 state-level teams, as well as individual states. The three areas of focus, or "levers for change," are (a) educational (meeting the educational requirements of balancing state responsibilities with federal statutes and traditions of local control), (b) organizational (building organizational capacities necessary for reconfiguring the current policy compliance system into an effective service-delivery model), and (c) political (addressing the political implications of balancing political pressure with educational wisdom). The author states that most often, only the educational area is addressed without regard to how the other two areas come into play. Within the three areas, lessons learned are described. The critical steps and guiding questions listed in each of the three areas could be useful to states in their work with low-performing school districts.


Smith, C. F., & Goodwin, D. (2014). A guided empowerment self-audit as a school improvement strategy. Research in Higher Education Journal. 25, 1-22. Retrieved from reference link.

This paper describes a program evaluation method called Guided Empowerment Self-Audit that is designed to help schools identify areas of concern and monitor their own performance. The Guided Empowerment Self-Audit is based on 11 indicators of effective schooling audit standards from the Arkansas Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education. This research is an amalgamation of findings from eight schools that utilized the Guided Empowerment Self-Audit method. One of the most important findings was the disconnection between schools' perceptions about how well they implemented the 11 indicators of effective schooling and the impact as measured by student achievement data. The discovery of the disconnection allowed schools to reexamine their school improvement practices. This tool can assist schools in addressing issues that prohibit school success and build capacity toward progress by making evaluation part of program management. The principles associated with the Guided Empowerment Self-Audit help facilitate school improvement by (a) setting a purpose, (b) establishing a measuring protocol, and (c) developing goals to achieve objectives.


Southern Regional Education Board. (2009). The district leadership challenge: Empowering principals to improve teaching and learning. Atlanta, GA: Author. Retrieved from reference link.

This study involved interviews with 22 principals from SREB-compiled lists of the 100 most-improved and 100 least-improved high schools, as measured by gains on the High Schools That Work (HSTW) Assessment between 2004 and 2006. Participating schools were in small, medium, and large districts across 17 states. Two major findings provide insight into the relationships between district and school leaders in high- versus low-performing schools: (a) principals at the most-improved high schools felt they had a collaborative working relationship with the district, and (b) in the least-improved high schools, most reform initiatives were centralized in the district office. Recommendations of district actions that can support principals in leading school improvement efforts are provided in the context of seven strategies SREB identified through research to support school reform. In addition, a section on how states can support districts in empowering principals is included. These are practical strategies to help principals be successful at both district and state levels.


Steiner, L. M., Hassel, E. A., & Hassel, B. (2008). School Turnaround Leaders: Competencies for success. Chapel Hill, NC: Public Impact. Retrieved from reference link.

Authors documented and analyzed cases in which public and private organizations that were failing made quick, dramatic performance improvements. A rubric was developed based on research, that resulted in 14 turnaround leader actions (identified by Rhim, Kowal, Hassel, & Hassel (2007) in School Turnarounds: A review of the cross-sector evidence on dramatic organizational improvement listed above in the Literature or Study Reviews section), as well as competency studies of successful entrepreneurs and leaders in large organizations. The rubric is structured around four clusters of competencies, with varying levels. The four clusters of competence include (a) driving for results, (b) influencing for results, (c) problem solving, and (d) showing confidence to lead. Definitions and school examples of each of the competencies are provided. Levels are shaded to correspond with a leader's probability of success in the role (i.e., red flag zone, neutral zone, potential hire zone). This tool may serve useful to district-level personnel during the interview and selection, or hiring process of turnaround leaders.


Suber, C. (2012). Characteristics of effective principals in high-poverty South Carolina elementary schools. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 7(1), 1-15. Retrieved from reference link.

This research article identifies the characteristics of effective principals in high-poverty, high-performing elementary schools. A mixed-method approach was used to determine the characteristics of effective principals through the use of surveys, observations, and interviews. The findings indicate that effective principals (a) empower teachers, (b) establish collaborative relationships, (c) set an example for stakeholders, and (d) place an emphasis on instructional leadership and collaboration which translate to student academic success. Knowing the characteristics of effective leadership provides district officials a tool to assess principal effectiveness and identify areas of improvement in promoting student achievement.


The Education Alliance & Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University. (2011). Central Falls High School: First year transformation report. Providence, RI: Brown University. Retrieved from reference link.

Based on interviews, focus groups, observations, and survey data, this report provides insight on the "hows" of the first year of transformation, including strategies and their impact on teachers, students, and others. Three strategic goals drove the action plan for school transformation: (a) increase graduation rate and decrease the dropout rate, (b) improve student proficiency in mathematics and maintain improvement in English Language Arts proficiency, and (c) improve the culture and climate of the school. The greatest area of success in the first year was in the first goal. To increase the graduation rate and decrease the dropout rate, Multiple Pathways programs were created. Student enrollment increased, as did the number of and students who graduated and/or recovered credits. The third goal received the least amount of positive feedback from the staff. The report summarizes stakeholder perceptions, describes challenges, and identifies areas for improvement.


Thielman, J. (2012). School turnaround: Cristo Rey Boston High School case study. Journal of Catholic Education, 16(1), 115-147. Retrieved from reference link.

This research article describes a self-directed turnaround of an urban Catholic high school where the principal and a core group of teachers set out to improve the quality of education they were providing their students. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that an internal effort toward school improvement is essential for a successful school turnaround. Using a mixed-methods approach, the author argues that there must be a moral incentive among school administrators and staff as well as external support to successfully lead a school turnaround.


Thompson, C. L., Brown, K. M., Townsend, L. W., Henry, G. T., & Fortner, C. K. (2011). Turning around North Carolina's lowest achieving schools (2006-2010). North Carolina: Consortium for Educational Research and Evaluation. Retrieved from reference link.

This report describes the experiences gained from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Turnaround Schools program's work between 2006 and 2010. Researchers used a mixed methods design, using a difference-in-differences method, onsite interviews, and an examination of school documents. The Scaffolded Craftsmanship approach includes four key areas: (a) school culture and climate, (b) knowledge and skills of leaders and staff, (c) structures and processes supporting instruction, and (d) links between the school, district, and community. Major findings for high school included (a) graduation rates increased, but not significantly; (b) significant improvement in high school test scores were not evident until schools had received three to four years of support; and (c) performance composites of high schools increased 10-12 points, with wide variance. Results are being used as a knowledge base from which to build Race to the Top reform efforts. This study supports the notion that improving the lowest performing schools requires focused and sustained support over three or more years.


Townsend, L., Thompson, C., & Marks, J. (2013). Turning around North Carolina's Lowest-Achieving Schools: Initial Findings on the School Leader Professional Development Series. Retrieved from Consortium for Educational Research and Evaluation North Carolina website: reference link.

The purpose of this report is to evaluate the School Leader Professional Development Series as an intervention strategy to improve low-performing schools in North Carolina. The School Leaders Professional Development Series is a year-long program of six two-day sessions across 36 school districts. The participants in this professional development series were school leaders and relevant instructional staff. Based on a 2012 survey of 196 participants, the professional development sessions provided high-quality professional development which provided insight into evaluating school practices that facilitate learning. The authors found that respondents were most interested in policies and practices that facilitate student learning and least interested in fostering and sustaining parent and community involvement and finding partners to provide social-emotional services. Recommendations provided to further enhance school practices were to differentiate professional development offerings based on participant experience and school performance (based on student achievement) and to provide high-quality literacy professional development.


Travers, J., & Christiansen, B. (2010). Strategic staffing for successful schools: Breaking the cycle of failure in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Retrieved from The Aspen Institute website: reference link.

Using a mixed-methods approach, this report describes the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Strategic Staffing Initiative where high-performing administrators and teachers are assigned to the neediest schools. The purpose of this report is to highlight the promise of this approach as a district turnaround strategy. The Strategic Staffing Initiative is based on five tenets: the existence of a proven leader, a team of teachers needed to address the challenge, dismissal of disruptive or non-supportive staff, principals are given time and authority for reforms to take effect, and compensation is commensurate with difficulty of job assignments. This turnaround strategy can be beneficial to other districts struggling with low-performing schools.


U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. (2014). A focused look at rural schools receiving school improvement grants (NCEE Brief No. 2014-4013). Retrieved from reference link.

This evaluation brief examines how nine rural School Improvement Grants (SIG) schools, from a purposeful sample of 35 schools over a three year period from 2010-2013, address the challenges of school turnaround. This brief highlights the importance of context in influencing school turnaround. The findings indicate that rural schools have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers and encouraging parent involvement due to the distances between home and school. To ameliorate these challenges, these rural school districts offer teachers a benefits package that includes gas stipends and bonuses, and they hire parent liaisons to increase parent involvement. These actions seek to establish and maintain a sustainable school community built around quality teachers and parental involvement.


U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. (2014). A focused look at schools receiving school improvement grants that have percentages of English language learner students (NCEE Brief No. 2014-4014). Retrieved from reference link.

This evaluation brief examines how schools receiving School Improvement Grants (SIG) provide specialized supports for their English Language Learner (ELL) students during the process of school turnaround. Eleven schools, with high percentages of ELLs (a median of 45% ELLs) were evaluated over a three-year period (2010-11 to 2012-13 school years). Key findings indicate that (a) in the initial phase of SIG, schools provide limited attention to the needs of ELLs as priorities change in response to more pressing school performance issues, (b) school administrators perceive that there are challenges related to teachers' expertise and skills in meeting the needs of ELLs, and (c) schools that are found to provide more attention to their ELLs, have teachers and staff dedicated to the needs of ELL students and received professional development related to ELLs within the context of SIG. This brief may be useful to district officials and school level administrators as they address the specialized needs of their ELL students in the context of school turnaround.


U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. (2014). A study of the effectiveness of a school improvement intervention (Success in Sight) (NCEE Publication No. 2012-4014). Retrieved from reference link.

This report examines the effectiveness of a school improvement intervention entitled Success in Sight that was developed by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL). The purpose of the study is to determine the effectiveness of Success in Sight as a systemic intervention toward school improvement by focusing on the interrelationships between professional development, student assessment, curriculum and instruction, and school leadership and support. This report is based on five capacity-building areas: data-based decision making, purposeful community, shared leadership, research-based practices, and continuous improvement process. This study was conducted using randomized trials to provide unbiased, causal evidence of the effectiveness of Success in Sight in improving student achievement in reading and mathematics, and increasing teacher capacity for school improvement practices (e.g., data driven decision making). There were 52 volunteer, mid-Western, low- to moderate-performing elementary schools (grades 3-5) used for this 2-year study. The results indicate that Success in Sight did not have a statistically significant impact on student achievement in reading and mathematics, or on teacher capacity for school improvement.


U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. (2014). Are low-performing schools adopting practices promoted by school improvement grants? (NCEE Brief No. 2015-4001). Retrieved from reference link.

This brief summarizes the federal School Improvement Grants' (SIG) four intervention models: (1) transformation, (2) turnaround, (3) restart, and (4) closure, and describes how SIG schools use the practices associated with the four models as part of their school improvement plan. Based on a 2013 survey of 480 school administrators in low-performing schools that were and were not implementing a SIG intervention model, the findings indicate the following: Schools adopted 20 of 32 school improvement practices. No school adopted all practices required under the transformation or turnaround models. Over 96% of schools adopted three of the most common practices: using data to inform and differentiate instruction, increasing technology access for teachers, and providing professional development on collaborative teaching. Most schools reported adopting a unique combination of practices.


U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. (2014). Case studies of schools receiving school improvement grants: Findings after the first year of implementation (NCEE Publication No. 2014-4015). Retrieved from reference link.

This report, produced by the Department of Education, is a set of case studies that document the change process in schools that receive School Improvement Grants (SIG) funds. The study collected stakeholder surveys and interview data from a sample of 60 (SIG) schools. Five key findings emerged in the analysis: Community and fiscal context matter in the interpretation of causes and solutions to low achievement. Leadership varied across the cases. Most schools did not perceive SIG as the primary impetus for the adoption of new strategies aimed at school turnaround. Most schools sought an incremental approach to change. Schools with the lowest organizational capacity obtained fewer resources than schools with higher organizational capacity.


U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. (2014). Operational authority, support, and monitoring of school turnaround (NCEE Brief No. 2014-4008). Retrieved from reference link.

This brief evaluates a purposeful sample of SIG-eligible schools to determine whether a school's policies and practices are aligned with three levers of school improvement (e.g., operational authority, turnaround support, and monitoring). It also determines whether the degree of alignment is associated with the implementation of one of the four intervention strategies for school improvement. Findings from interviews and a 2012 survey of state, district, and school administrators reveal that all three levers of school improvement were incorporated in varying degrees. According to the authors, state, district, and school administrators should consider the information contained in this brief as a starting point for future investigations on the topic of SIG implementation of school turnaround strategies.


U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, and Policy and Program Studies Service. (2010). Achieving dramatic school improvement: An exploratory study. Retrieved from reference link.

This exploratory study examines the quick-and-dramatic and the slow-and-steady approaches of comprehensive school reform (CSR) to understand the processes and practices in which they engaged to elicit improved student achievement and overall school improvement. The eleven participating schools were selected due to improved student achievement between 2000 and 2005. The findings indicate that, no matter which approach is used, schools that demonstrated student achievement and school improvement in the short-run often were unable to sustain their success due to funding and other organizational concerns. This study also points to the complexity of the school environment where similar strategies for school improvement can yield different outcomes depending on contextual factors within and beyond the control of schools.


Urban Institute. (2007, March). Feeling the Florida heat? How low-performing schools respond to voucher and accountability pressure (Working Paper No. 13). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from reference link.

This research argues that school accountability pressures result in sustained test score gains in low-performing schools. The authors describe Florida's 1999 A+ Plan for Education, a test-based accountability measure that assigned letter grades to each school based on students' achievement. High-achieving schools received rewards, and low-achieving schools received sanctions and support in the form of recommendations, technical assistance, and additional resources and funding. A five-year survey of Florida's public schools found that accountability pressure led to meaningful changes in a school's instruction practices, test score gains for students in low-performing schools in math and reading, a focus on low-performing students, extended instructional time, increased teacher resources, organizational efficiency, and decreased principal control.


Urban Institute. (2007, March). High-poverty schools and the distribution of teachers and principals (Working Paper No. 1). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research website: reference link.

This working paper suggests that the persistent inequality in qualified teaching staff between high poverty and low poverty schools is due to labor market forces that effect the distribution of high quality teachers and principals. The paper attempts to determine how the quality of teachers and principals in high poverty schools compares to the quality of teachers and principals in low poverty schools in North Carolina. Using administrative data, the findings indicate that low poverty schools have an advantage over high poverty schools in attracting and retaining high quality staff due to financial incentives and working conditions. As a result, students bear the academic cost of attending high poverty schools while students attending low poverty schools benefit. The authors provide two approaches that states can implement to address this problem, increase the supply of high quality teachers so that they can be dispersed throughout the school system and provide financial and other incentives to attract high quality teachers to high poverty schools.


Urdegar, S. M. (2009). Miami-Dade County Public Schools school improvement zone: Final evaluation report. Miami, FL: Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Retrieved from reference link.

The evaluation of this district-led initiative used mixed quantitative methods to collect and analyze attitudinal and measurement data. Components of the School Improvement Zone program included (a) a core literacy program that extended from pre-k through grade 12, (b) a structured curriculum with instructional strategies that built across grade and school levels, (c) an extended day and school year that provided additional instructional time, and (d) enhanced professional development for teachers. This study sought to examine implementation fidelity of the School Improvement Zone program, impact on the learning environment and student achievement, as well as perceptions of parents and community members and perceptions of overall effectiveness. Student achievement was examined through comparisons with non-equivalent control groups on three different tests: the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT)-Norm Referenced Test, the FCAT-Sunshine State Standards (FCAT-SSS), and the FCAT-Writing test. Findings revealed that over three quarters of schools adequately implemented the program. The perceptions of Zone schools were somewhat less favorable than those of comparison sites. The Zone was not considered to have had a positive impact relative to the comparison group on students' FCAT-SSS scores in either reading or math. Perceptions of parents were positive regarding being treated with respect, the availability of teachers, and being involved in matters affecting their children's progress in school with few differences found between the Zone and control groups. However, less than two thirds of responding parents agreed that the extra learning time was beneficial. Almost all administrators agreed or strongly agreed that the Zone program was an effective means of improving student achievement, the student development teams were effective at helping students, and that differentiated instruction was effective at promoting student learning. Thus, the author states that overall results after three years of implementation were mixed. These findings could have important implications for future research. Examination of specific instructional practices could be necessary to successfully detect effects of whole-school reform initiatives.


Villavicencio, A., & Grayman, J. K. (2012). Learning from "turnaround" middle schools: Strategies for success. Retrieved from New York University, The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development website: reference link.

This report describes three fundamental turnaround strategies that enable chronically low-performing New York City middle schools to "beat the odds" without extra resources or significant changes in school personnel. These schools were able to improve through the use of existing resources and building internal capacity. Using principal and teacher interviews from two groups of low-performing schools that had different experiences with school turnaround, the authors found that: aligning needs with goals, creating a positive work environment, and addressing student discipline and safety are essential conditions in promoting school improvement. Moreover, specific strategies to build internal capacity for teaching and learning were (a) enhancing teacher development opportunities, (b) creating small learning communities, (c) identifying student sub-populations that need support, and (d) and using data to guide instruction. The authors also addressed several challenges such as improving parent engagement and addressing student socio-emotional development, and provided recommendations such as limiting the number of programmatic and school-wide changes in order to achieve success in implementing turnaround strategies.


Waits, M. J., Campbell, H. E., Gau, R., Jacobs, E., Rex, T., Hess, R. K. (2006.) Why some schools with Latino children beat the oddsa_and others don't. Phoenix, AZ: Morrison Institute for Public Policy, Arizona State University. Retrieved from reference link.

Based on the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, researchers in this study followed a similar methodology. With the support and ongoing advice of Jim Collins, researchers identified 12 "beat-the-odds" (BTO) schools and 12 matched comparison schools all located in Arizona. "Beat the-odds" schools were identified using a regression equation of Stanford 9 third-grade reading and eighth-grade math scores that predicted results for schools. After several additional steps, nine "steady climbers" and three "steady performers" became the "Beat-the-odds" schools. Surveys were administered and interviews were conducted in each of the schools. The six key findings that distinguished "beat-the-odds" schools from comparison schools included (a) BTO schools emphasized achievement for every student and took responsibility for their performance, (b) BTO schools conducted frequent in-school assessments of teachers and students to spot problems early and drive improvement, (c) BTO schools focused on factors that truly improved schools and kept pushing despite challenges, (d) BTO schools took responsibility for school improvement which is shared among the teachers and staff, (e) BTO schools identified a good program and stuck with it, and (f) BTO schools customized instruction to meet student needs. Variables other than student outcomes, such as class size, budget, number of highly qualified teachers, teacher turnover rates, or parental involvement did not show any differences between the "beat-the-odds" and matched schools. This report provides insights into BTO schools of a specific minority population Latino students. The findings provide guidance on where to focus energy and resources for school improvement based on comparisons with a student population.


Walston, B. J., Proto, M. T., & Brown, K. (2013). Turning around North Carolina elementary schools: Lessons learned from the process of improvement. Journal of Education Policy, Planning and Administration, 2(2), 19-38. Retrieved from reference link.

This qualitative research study examines the school turnaround process in six North Carolina elementary schools in an effort to identify the factors that promote and hinder student achievement. The authors compared three schools that achieved significant growth on end-of-grade test (an increase of twenty or more points) to three schools that did not achieve significant growth on end-of-grade test (an increase of less than five points). Schools included in this study had performance composites (representing the number of students who achieved proficiency) below 60% for two or more years. Using a multiple-case study design and interviews, the findings suggest that there are four areas that contribute to school turnaround success. These are: developing a school climate that facilitates student learning, improving administrator, teacher, and staff knowledge, strengthening the structures and processes that support academic instruction, and creating and sustaining strong school-community partnerships. The authors also reported factors that prohibit school turnaround which include (a) a schools' ability to sustain long-term reform initiatives, (b) student discipline, (c) lack of student data collection and analysis, and (d) continued teacher and principal turnover.


Waters, T., Marzano, R., & McNulty, B. (2003). Balanced leadership: What 30 years of research tells us about the effect of leadership on student achievement. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. Retrieved from reference link.

Authors conducted a systematic meta-analysis (including doctoral dissertations) that examined the effects of leadership on student achievement reported since the 1970s. Results revealed 21 specific leadership responsibilities that significantly correlated with student achievement. Included in this list, with their respective effect sizes, were: Culture (avg. r = .29); Order (avg. r = .26); Discipline (avg. r = .24; Resources (avg. r = .26); Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment (avg. r = .16); Focus (avg. r = .24), Knowledge of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment (avg. r = .24); Visibility (avg. r = .16); Contingent Rewards (avg. r = .15); Communication (avg. r = .23); Outreach (avg. r = .28); Input (avg. r = .30); Affirmation (avg. r = .25); Relationship (avg. r = .19); Change Agent (avg. r = .30); Optimizer (avg. r = .20); Ideals/beliefs (avg. r = .25); Monitors/evaluates (avg. r = .28); Flexibility (avg. r = .22); Situational Awareness (avg. r = .33); and Intellectual stimulation (avg. r = .32). Authors also discuss the characteristics of change that affect leadership practices, including first and second order change. Knowledge of these variables and their impact may be valuable in ensuring a balanced leadership approach to increase student achievement.


Wilkerson, S. B., Shannon, L. C., Styers, M. K., & Grant, B. (2012). A study of the effectiveness of a school improvement intervention (Success in Sight): Final report. (NCEE 2012-4014). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from reference link.

This study used a cluster randomized trial to investigate the effects of a school improvement intervention, Success in Sight. Fifty-two schools (26 treatment and 26 control) in Missouri and Minnesota participated in this study. Reading and math achievement data were gathered from students in grades 3-5. The intervention focused on five areas of school-capacity building, including (a) data-based decision-making, (b) purposeful community, (c) shared leadership, (d) research-based practices, and (e) a five-stage continuous improvement cycle. Facilitators used a variety of strategies to deliver Success in Sight content to school leadership teams. A total of six large-group professional development sessions were held with consortia of schools. Ten onsite mentoring sessions occurred with leadership teams. Distance learning and support were also provided. Lastly, teams engaged in fractal improvement experiences (projects that build team capacity while addressing specific school needs). This study's impact analyses examined the effect of Success in Sight on student achievement in reading or mathematics after two years, which was the length of the Success in Sight intervention. Success in Sight did not have a statistically significant impact on student achievement in reading or mathematics (primary outcomes), or on teacher capacity for school improvement practices (secondary outcomes) in data-based decision-making, purposeful community, or shared leadership. Authors note it can take two to four years of implementing an improvement initiative before detecting statistically significant student impacts. Thus, a follow-up of this study is worth investigating at or after the four-year time frame. In addition, a replication study in different locations implementing Success in Sight would seem necessary for greater generalizability.


Williams, T., Kirst, M., Haertel, E., & Levin, J. (2010). Gaining ground in the middle grades: When some schools do better. Mountain View, CA: EdSource. Retrieved from reference link.

This study included 303 middle schools across California. Half of the schools served predominantly low-income students and half served predominantly middle-income students. Teachers, principals, and superintendents were surveyed. This study examined the reported practices and outcomes of California Standards Tests (CST) in English language arts (grades 6, 7, and 8), General Math (grades 6, 7, and 8), and Algebra I (grade 8). Both cross-sectional analyses and longitudinal analyses were conducted. Analyses revealed which domains of effective middle-grade practices more strongly predicted higher CST outcomes, and the school and district practices and policies that differentiate higher- from lower-performing middle grades schools. The differences in high- versus low-performing schools were not in the strategies that were reported, but how consistently and intensely (on a scale of 1-5) teachers, principals, and superintendents reported implementing the practice or policy. Of 10 domains of educational practices, the domain with the greatest predictive strength was "An intense, school-wide focus on improving academic outcomes." The three domains that differentiated schools with higher CST scores and higher gains, but did so with less predictive strength than the other seven domains of practices, pertained to school environment, the organization of time and instruction, and attention to student transitions. The value of this study is its focus on the middle grades and the practices that distinguished higher-performing schools.


Yatsko, S., Lake, R., Nelson, E. C., & Bowen, M. (2012). Tinkering toward transformation: A look at federal school improvement grant implementation. Retrieved from Center on Reinventing Public Education website: reference link.

This research evaluates the school improvement grant (SIG) implementation process in Washington to highlight its accomplishments and challenges. Although SIG schools have principals and instructional staff members that are willing to work hard and are excited about the opportunity to work in turnaround schools, they often fall short of their school improvement goals. Using interview data from state and district education stakeholders, and union executives, the authors found many challenges to SIG implementation at the school, district, and state levels. Increased learning time, curriculum and instructional changes, and increased professional development failed to demonstrate transformative change. According to the authors, the lack of change may be due to the limited role school districts play in SIG implementation, the fear of controversial education interventions, teacher unions, and the inability to transfer ineffective teachers. Recommendations to address these challenges are (a) making the application requirements more rigorous, (b) facilitating more competitive funding awards, (c) providing additional state planning time prior to rollout, and (d) providing states, districts, and schools with successful models. The role of states should include partnering with districts to encourage effective school turnaround, and providing legislative support for districts that need additional flexibility to fully implement SIG. The authors recommend that the role of the district should include establishing a district SIG or turnaround office to assist in overcoming barriers to implementation; therefore, establishing a comprehensive plan that accounts for the plethora of challenges that lay ahead is essential to school turnaround success.


Ylimaki, R. M., & Brunderman, L. (2012). Turnaround leadership development project: Preliminary findings from a statewide project. Retrieved from University of Arizona, College of Education website: reference link.

Using a mix-methodological approach, this preliminary report evaluates Arizona's statewide Turnaround Leadership Development Project (TLDP). This project is designed to develop leadership and teacher skills in improving low-performing schools. The four principles that are essential to TLDP success are research-based turnaround leadership practices, high-quality professional development, awareness of school needs while being cognizant of the political environment, and external school monitoring. These principles lead to four turnaround leadership practices: creating a vision, supporting staff development, creating a new climate, and fostering high-quality instruction. Survey and interview data collected from 252 schools revealed that most principals utilize a directive leadership approach for improving low-performing schools. The authors suggest that widespread use of this approach indicates that most schools do not have the capacity for turnaround, often lack a shared vision, and have student and family issues that are difficult to overcome. On the other hand, the authors found that high capacity schools have principals who value ways for increasing family involvement, sharing student assessment data with teachers, and encouraging teacher collaboration. Success in using the TLDP depends on the adherence of it principles and practices.


Zavadsky, H. (2012). School turnarounds: The essential role of districts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

This author makes the case for district-led turnaround, studying different models in five districts: Charlotte-Mecklenburg, School District of Philadelphia; Denver Public Schools, Sacramento City Unified School District, and Long Beach Unified School District. Each area successfully raised achievement through district-led strategies, such as talent management in the area of human capital and teaching parents how to be advocates in the area of parent involvement. In her discussion, Zavadsky provides information on the turnaround strategy, human capital, curriculum and instruction, performance management, partnerships, climate and culture, and challenges and changes. The strategies offered may serve useful in other large, urban contexts experiencing similar circumstances.


Zhang, Y. (2008). Some perspectives from rural school districts on the No Child Left Behind Act. Retrieved from reference link.

Findings are based on a 2006-2007 nationally representative survey completed by directors of the federal Title I program and other local administrators of federal programs of NCLB implementation. In addition, in-depth interviews were conducted with district and school level administrators in eight rural districts. Of 339 districts that responded (71% response rate), 116 were identified as rural based on the metropolitan statistical code variable. Rural schools districts included had an enrollment larger than 200 students. The following were some of the key findings: (a) rural districts, like urban and suburban, rated their district policies and programs as more important causes of improved student achievement than the provisions of NCLB; (b) a substantial number of rural districts have achievement gaps for students with disabilities (68%) and low-income students (50%); (c) the highly qualified teacher requirements appear to have had a limited impact on teacher recruitment and retention in most rural districts; and (d) rural districts have the most difficulty complying with the highly qualified teacher requirements for secondary school science and math teachers. Closing gaps in achievement in rural districts among students with disabilities, as well as those from low-income families, are perceived as the most challenging. This study is useful in that it compares the responses of rural districts to urban and suburban districts.