Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How Districts Enable and Support High-Performing Schools

This report features three effective school districts in North Carolina. The districts vary in terms of the types of students they serve, where they are located, and the number of schools they oversee. The districts include:

* Catawba County, a rural district serving a student population of more than 17,000 students, around half of which were income eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches in the 2011-12 school year
* Montgomery County, also rural but with a smaller student population than Catawba (around 4,000 students), and where more than 70 percent of its students were eligible for subsidized lunches in the 2011-12 school year
* Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, an urban district, with one of the largest student populations in the state (around 50,000 students), and where about half of the students were eligible for subsidized lunches in the 2011-12 school year.

Despite the superficial differences, these three districts share the fact that they have a districtwide commitment to supporting teacher collaboration, and many of their schools perform much better than comparable schools in the state.

There are three themes that emerged from the study of these districts. Leaders in districts’ central offices, such as superintendents and other members of their leadership teams, worked hard to ensure that their principals, other school administrators, and teachers adhered to the following routines:

* Principals and other school administrators observed teaching frequently in classrooms.
* Teachers discussed student performance and instruction in focused meetings.
* Teachers used research-based instructional techniques.

These three activities are common to high-performing schools, and the cases outlined below remind us that school improvement is about supporting teachers to do their best work in their classrooms. When district leaders engage with educators to promote routines such as those listed above, they demonstrate the power that focusing on the core of education—teaching and learning in classrooms—can have on student achievement.
Strategies in common

The case studies included in this report explore how one school in each district improved and how the district contributed to that particular school’s progress. Every school is different, but the cases presented herein illustrate some ways in which these districts have supported the efforts of school leaders to drive instructional improvement.

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