Friday, November 16, 2018

Promise to Practice: How States Are Approaching School Improvement

Project Background and Overview

Three years ago, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal government shifted the responsibility for identifying and intervening in our chronically under-performing schools to the states. With a limited federal role, one must now look individually at all 50 states to understand how our nation is addressing the achievement gap. The consequences are sobering – more than 9 million students attend schools that do not meet anyone’s standard for what is acceptable. The overwhelming majority of these children are students of color from low-income families.*

We know from the decades-long School Improvement Grant (SIG) program that turning around our lowest performing schools is hard, extremely complex work.  There are no silver bullets and we have made little progress to date. Where it works, it requires leadership and community buy-in and, along the way, the ability to make unpopular decisions.

The Collaborative for Student Success (Collaborative) in partnership with HCM Strategists (HCM) set out to identify and lift up the promising practices being adopted in the implementation of ESSA that were worthy of consideration by the field. This work, Check State Plans: Promise to Practice, is a natural progression from last year’s independent peer review conducted by the Collaborative and Bellwether Education Partners of every states new accountability plan, titled Check State Plans.

This analysis is grounded in the collective wisdom and experience of peer reviewers from across the country who have been deeply engaged in this work. These former chiefs, district leaders, school improvement experts, civil rights advocates, English language and special education leaders were recruited to conduct an independent review of the progress made to date on school improvement under each state’s renewed context for school accountability. Only 17 states met our threshold for having enough publicly available information to be reviewed: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.

Arguably, school improvement is an area of public education reform with one of the least conclusive evidence bases, growing political tension, and a gigantic need for extra resources. This work is not done in a vacuum; compounding the challenges, many states face funding deficits, teacher shortages, and safety issues. Nonetheless, it is concerning that after three years and a quarter of the way through the school year, only 17 states are ready to identify and support their lowest performing schools.

Those involved in this effort believe it is imperative that we shine a bright spotlight on this very concrete and actionable opportunity to truly begin to drive an equity agenda. The hope is that the remaining 33 states and the advocacy community that supports them will consider both the promising practices from their colleagues across the United States as well the recommendations for creating a policy environment where this work can succeed.


In spring 2018, the Collaborative partnered with Education First (EdFirst), to first survey and then interview state education leaders to document the timeline and activities states had set in motion to identify and support schools in need of comprehensive support. The results from those interactions with over 40 state leaders were used to identify the states ready for this review.  In addition, in August 2018, HCM completed a four-month audit of state department of education websites to gather, at a minimum: the state’s application for districts to receive school improvement funding, the state’s scoring rubric for the application and the state’s guidance for districts or schools to develop and implement their improvement plans. HCM, in partnership with the Collaborative’s leadership team and a group former chiefs and school improvement experts, developed a rubric reviewers used to evaluate states as exemplary, strong, adequate, needs improvement, weak, or not available across eight policy levers:

1. Coherent vision for improving outcomes
2. Strategic use of funding and alignment of resources
3. Rigorous review process
4. Continuous improvement, monitoring and evaluation
5. Evidence-based interventions
6. Capacity building and autonomy
7. Engaging stakeholders
8. Sustaining outcomes

The results by state can be found here.

Troubling Trends

  • Equity is not prioritized in half the states. While nearly every state reviewed referenced equity in some way, fewer than half clearly stated equity as a focus and required districts to demonstrate how they would address inequities – such as providing more access to high quality teachers, rigorous curriculum, and enrichment opportunities.

  • Many states are not taking their new oversight role seriously.There is not enough emphasis overall on the quality of the application as a whole or on the extent to which the district has shown that it is addressing the needs of the identified school as determined through the comprehensive needs assessment. As a result, it is hard to see how states will be able to distribute funds in a strategic manner or reach the schools and districts with the greatest need.

  • It will be hard to tell what’s working. It is unclear in nine states the degree to which they are utilizing a robust, data-driven process to monitor district implementation.

  • A strong sustainability plan is missing from all but one of the states reviewed.

Promising Practices from The High Performers

  • Louisiana has committed to and clearly articulated a statewide improvement strategy, integrating all their efforts around a vision that every student has access to grade level instruction daily, using a rigorous and high-quality curriculum every teacher has been trained to use.

  • Colorado developed a streamlined application to award services and funding. The application is organized into four pathways: exploration supports, district designed and led, offered supports, and continuation. Each pathway has different criteria and methods of awarding funds. The ultimate intent is to develop a robust process of matching schools’ needs with rigorous, evidence-based strategies and adequate resources.

  • Nevada explicitly asks that districts include in their application narrative a description of how their chosen strategy or strategies for low performing schools address equity gaps.

  • New Mexico requires districts and schools to use NM-DASH (Data, Accountability, Sustainability, and High Achievement), a web-based action-planning, process management tool to help them develop school improvement plans and identify evidence-based interventions. This system aligns the states accountability and educator evaluation systems with the school improvement efforts. Districts and schools are required to check in with officials continuously and to use data from NM-DASH to gauge the effectiveness of the improvement strategies.

  • Tennessee’s school improvement application serves as a step-by-step primer for districts in how to create a detailed needs assessment, identify common themes, conduct a root cause analysis to prioritize the areas of greatest need, and then develop goals and an implementation plan to address each high-priority area.

Leadership Approaches

Three leadership approaches emerge from our analysis.  No doubt, all three approaches have strengths, weaknesses, and the ability to succeed. The key is to be explicit about the philosophy and then to follow through with a coherent, measurable plan that is known by all of the stakeholders.

The State Leadership Approach:
Chiefs in these states have outlined an explicit and coherent vision for school improvement, and for the most part have integrated it throughout all their efforts. They’ve strived for consistent messaging around school improvement, developed a system to monitor the progress, and they’ve used competitive funding to prioritize resources to districts that have demonstrated a commitment to real improvement. The state is leading from the front and communicating a need for urgent change. Peers paid special attention to the degree to which these states’ theories of action were front-and-center throughout all of their school improvement materials and articulated an equity focus. These states are Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Tennessee and on average they scored the highest in our review.

The Partnership Approach: 
These states view themselves as partners with districts and try to walk the line in acting as both a coach and a referee. They focus on enhancing district capacity throughout the improvement process to make decisions and serve all students. Rubrics are often used to guide conversations around the improvement process rather than grade the quality of the applications and state staff generally work with districts to complete the plan if it lacks initially. Many of these states are establishing progress monitoring check-ins with districts, where the conversation is geared around “how can we help.” Peers looked particularly at whether these states clearly defined roles and responsibilities for school improvement at the state, district, and school levels. There are five states in this category: Connecticut, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Nevada.

The District Leadership Approach: 
These states view their role as creating a foundation for improvement and expect district leaders to take primary responsibility for developing and implementing their school improvement strategy. As a result, these states often employ very specific school improvement frameworks, planning tools, or funding guidance. These states lean heavily on a local needs assessment or school improvement application to make funding determinations, and will generally point districts to or a state-created resource hub for intervention recommendations, but will not prioritize a specific strategy. Peers paid special attention to the degree to which these states had completed a high-quality suite of school improvement guidance and foundation documents and made it publicly available. There are eight states in this category: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Texas.

Right to Pre-K


A new report makes a practical, policy and political case that preschool is fundamental to our nation's free public education system and that universal access should be a constitutional right.

"A wealth of new research and political developments around the country support the position that pre-K must be accessible to all children at age three as a core part of their right to a free public education," according to the report.

Establishing Universal Access to Prekindergarten as a Constitutional Right, published by The Center for Educational Equity (CEE) at Teachers College, Columbia University and the Center for Children's Initiatives (CCI), cites evidence of benefits to children and communities; defines what such a right would entail and reviews state legal precedents for establishing such a right.

"We contend that policy commitments alone, without the bedrock of a well-defined right to early education, fall short," the report states.

Today, access to high-quality pre-K varies widely between states and within states--even from one year to the next--based on fiscal conditions and political will. For example, pre-K expansion in most states stalled for years following the 2008 Great Recession, and state preschool funding per child did not rebound to pre-recession levels until 2015-16, according to The State of Preschool 2016. 

To ensure that financing is stable and sustained, the report recommends states integrate preschool funding into their K-12 funding formulas, with allocations protected for preschool. A 2016 NIEER study determined use of the school funding formula is associated with greater adequacy and stability in pre-K funding.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Bias-based bullying does more harm, is harder to protect against

A new study finds that bias-based bullying does more harm to students than generalized bullying, particularly for students who are targeted because of multiple identities, such as race and gender. What's more, the study finds that efforts to mitigate these harms are less effective against bias-based bullying.
"Bias-based bullying is when children are bullied because of some aspect of their social identity, whether that's race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation," says Kelly Lynn Mulvey, an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of a paper on the work. "Multiple bias-based bullying is when children are targeted because of two or more aspects of their social identity. These both differ from generalized bullying, in which kids are targeted because of things like their academic interests, being the new kid at school or their fashion choices."
"We wanted to know whether the effects of bullying varied depending on why a child was bullied," says Elan Hope, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and a co-author of the paper. "Specifically, we wanted to know if outcomes differed when kids are targeted because of social biases."
The researchers looked at data on 678 students between the ages of 12 and 18 from around the country. The data stem from the School Crime Supplement to the Department of Justice's 2015 National Crime Victimization Survey. Four hundred and eighty seven of the students reported generalized bullying. One hundred and seventeen students reported experiencing one type of bias-based bullying, with gender, race and disability being the most common categories targeted. Sixty-four students reported multiple bias-based bullying, with race and ethnicity being the most commonly targeted categories.
The researchers evaluated a suite of adverse outcomes, as well as protective factors that may help mitigate those outcomes.
"We found that victims of multiple bias-based bullying had the worst outcomes in three areas: fear of being harmed, school avoidance, and negative effects on their physical, psychological and academic well-being," Mulvey says. "Victims of one type of bias-based bullying fared second worst. Victims of generalized bullying still suffered adverse outcomes, but to a lesser extent than the other two groups."
The researchers also found that the effectiveness of protective factors also varied across the groups.
For example, social support from teachers, family, community members and peers did nothing to help victims of bias-based or multiple bias-based bullying - though it did help victims of generalized bullying. And school safety and security measures did not alleviate adverse outcomes for victims of multiple bias-based bullying - but did mitigate harms for victims of single bias-based bullying and generalized bullying.
"These findings show that a one-size-fits-all approach to anti-bullying campaigns is not very effective," Hope says. "Bias-based bullying and multiple bias-based bullying have different effects on students, and interventions are needed to focus on those underlying biases.

Juice displaces milk and fruit in high school lunches

High school students participating in school meal programs are less likely to select milk, whole fruit, and water when fruit juice is available, which on balance may decrease the nutritional quality of their lunches, according to a new study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

The National School Lunch program reaches over 30 million students, and while fruits, vegetables, and dairy served in the school lunch undoubtedly contribute to a healthy diet, the appropriate role of juice in children's diets has generated debate. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children aged 7-18 consume no more than 8 ounces of juice daily, and juice is permitted to be served as part of the National School Lunch program only on certain days.

"Our findings suggest that on the days when juice is available as a choice in high school lunches, students do not select whole fruit and milk as often. This is a problem because compared to juice, milk and whole fruit are better sources of three nutrients of concern for adolescents - calcium, vitamin D, and fiber," says Marlene Schwartz, Director of the UConn Rudd Center and co-author of the study.

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, utilized cafeteria register data from 3 low-income, Northeast high schools over one school year to determine whether high school students select different meal options on days when juice is available. The study also looked at the sales of a la carte beverages, which included both water and 100% juice.

Key findings include:
  • On juice days, 9.9% fewer milks and 7.4% fewer whole fruit servings were selected with lunches.
  • 8.2% fewer bottles of water and 24.4% fewer bottles of 100% juice were sold a la carte when juice was offered.
"The potential nutritional impact of these substitutions is important to consider. For instance, an 8-ounce serving of apple juice has no vitamin D, 285 fewer grams of calcium, and 116 fewer grams of potassium compared to an 8-ounce serving of 1% milk," says Rebecca Boehm, lead author of the study and a University of Connecticut Postdoctoral Fellow with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and the Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy.

Sex Ed before college can prevent student experiences of sexual assault

Students who receive sexuality education, including refusal skills training, before college matriculation are at lower risk of experiencing sexual assault during college, according to new research published today in PLOS ONE. The latest publication from Columbia University's Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) project suggests that sexuality education during high school may have a lasting and protective effect for adolescents.

The research found that students who received formal education about how to say no to sex (refusal skills training) before age 18 were less likely to experience penetrative sexual assault in college.

Students who received refusal skills training also received other forms of sexual education, including instruction about methods of birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Students who received abstinence-only instruction did not show significantly reduced experiences of campus sexual assault.

"We need to start sexuality education earlier," said John Santelli, MD, the article's lead author, a pediatrician and professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. "It's time for a life-course approach to sexual assault prevention, which means teaching young people - before they get to college - about healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships, how to say no to unwanted sex, and how to say yes to wanted sexual relationships."

The findings draw on a confidential survey of 1671 students from Columbia University and Barnard College conducted in the spring of 2016 and on in-depth interviews with 151 undergraduate students conducted from September 2015 to January 2017.

The authors found that multiple social and personal factors experienced prior to college were associated with students' experience of penetrative sexual assault (vaginal, oral, or anal) during college. These factors include unwanted sexual contact before college (for women); adverse child experiences such as physical abuse; 'hooking up' in high school; or initiation of sex and alcohol or drug use before age 18.

Ethnographic interviews highlighted the heterogeneity of students' sex education experiences. Many described sexuality education that was awkward, incomplete, or provided little information about sexual consent or sexual assault.

The research also found that students who were born outside of the United States and students whose mothers had lived only part of their lives or never lived in the U.S. had fewer experiences of penetrative sexual assault in college. Religious participation in high school did not prevent sexual assault overall, but a higher frequency of religious participation showed a borderline statistically significant protective association.

"The protective impact of refusal skills-based sexuality education, along with previous research showing that a substantial proportion of students have experienced assault before entering college, underlines the importance of complementing campus-based prevention efforts with earlier refusal skills training," said Santelli.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Expanding Access to High-Quality Schools with School Choice Algorithms

Few clear-cut fixes exist in education. However, when it comes to choosing and enrolling in public schools, a specific centralized process exists that is both simple for families to navigate and efficient for schools and districts.

While the expansion of public school choice has allowed parents or guardians to select schools that best meet their children’s needs, some application and enrollment processes can present barriers to families with less time or familiarity with the system. A centralized system can simplify enrollment for both families and schools, but depending on how a district assigns an offer for each student, some families can unfairly manipulate the system to make it more likely that their child secures a seat at a more in-demand, usually better-performing school.

CAP released a new report and a short video providing an overview of fair, efficient, and transparency school matching algorithms. A handful of cities have already implemented these algorithms, including New Orleans, Indianapolis, Denver, and Camden. Put simply, these algorithms can improve the efficiency of enrollment systems, while also ensuring that every student has a fair shot at the school he or she wants to attend—something that can, in the long run, improve academic outcomes.

Insufficient sleep in children is associated with poor diet, obesity and more screen time

A new study conducted among more than 177,000 students suggests that insufficient sleep duration is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle profile among children and adolescents.
Results show that insufficient sleep duration was associated with unhealthy dietary habits such as skipping breakfast (adjusted odds ratio 1.30), fast-food consumption (OR 1.35) and consuming sweets regularly (OR 1.32). Insufficient sleep duration also was associated with increased screen time (OR 1.26) and being overweight/obese (OR 1.21).

"Approximately 40 percent of schoolchildren in the study slept less than recommended," said senior author Labros Sidossis, PhD, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "Insufficient sleeping levels were associated with poor dietary habits, increased screen time and obesity in both genders."
The study results are published in the Oct. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health. Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours.

Population data were derived from a school-based health survey completed in Greece by 177,091 children (51 percent male) between the ages of 8 and 17 years. Dietary habits, usual weekday and weekend sleeping hours, physical activity status, and sedentary activities were assessed through electronic questionnaires completed at school. Children who reported that they usually sleep fewer than nine hours per day, and adolescents sleeping fewer than eight hours per day, were classified as having insufficient sleep. Anthropometric and physical fitness measurements were obtained by physical education teachers.

A greater proportion of males than females (42.3 percent versus 37.3 percent) and of children compared with adolescents (42.1 percent versus 32.8 percent) reported insufficient sleep duration. Adolescents with an insufficient sleep duration also had lower aerobic fitness and physical activity.

"The most surprising finding was that aerobic fitness was associated with sleep habits," said Sidossis. "In other words, better sleep habits were associated with better levels of aerobic fitness. We can speculate that adequate sleep results in higher energy levels during the day. Therefore, children who sleep well are maybe more physically active during the day and hence have higher aerobic capacity."

The authors noted that the results support the development of interventions to help students improve sleep duration.

"Insufficient sleep duration among children constitutes an understated health problem in Westernized societies," Sidossis said. "Taking into consideration these epidemiologic findings, parents, teachers and health professionals should promote strategies emphasizing healthy sleeping patterns for school-aged children in terms of quality and duration."