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Research Into Tennessee's Achievement School District: Autonomy, Incentives, and Guidance for Providers

January 1, 2015

This is the first in a series of reports based on a multi-year research project on the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD). The purpose of these reports is to present independent analyses based on evidence, as well as the experience and judgment of the research team. The current discussion examines the ASD's theory of action, and considers how its system of accountability and guidance could influence the nature of students' educational experiences. Particular attention is given to the diversity of approaches among the organizations operating schools in the ASD, and the extent to which this could lead to meaningful comparisons, discussion, and ultimately organizational learning. Our focus on organizational learning is motivated by the belief that the capacity of ASD providers to learn and improve is critical to the success of the overall enterprise.

How State Education Agencies Acquire and Use Research in School Improvement Strategies, 2014

October 1, 2014

Policymakers have urged state education agencies (SEAs) to engage with organizations outside of their agencies to extend their capacity and to help them collect and use research to support school improvement. However, little is known about how SEAs search for, select, and use research in their school improvement efforts. In the first study to examine communication structures, social capital, and information networks within SEAs, researchers Goertz, Barnes, and Massell in How State Education Agencies Acquire and Use Research in School Improvement Strategies applied social network perspectives and methods to identify knowledge sources utilized by SEAs. Their findings provide important insights into how SEA staff search for and incorporate research in their work and provide guidance to SEAs and policymakers on ways to apply these findings.

State Education Agencies' Acquisition and Use of Research Knowledge for School Improvement Strategies

September 1, 2013

Over the last 20 years, state education agencies (SEAs) have been given considerably more responsibilities for directing and guiding the improvement of low-performing schools. At the same time, federal policies strongly pressed SEAs to use research to design these supports. Very few studies have explored the SEA as an organization, or its role in accessing and using research. Likewise, few, if any, have studied the role of social networks in the organization and flow of information in SEAs. This exploratory study was designed to fill those gaps by examining where and how a purposive sample of three SEAs searched for, incorporated, and used research and other types of knowledge to design, implement, and refine state school improvement policies, programs and practices.

How State Education Agencies Acquire and Use Research in School Improvement Strategies, 2013

August 1, 2013

Over the last two decades, state and federal laws and grant programs, such as state accountability polices, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Race to the Top, Title I School Improvement Grants, and State Longitudinal Data System Grants, have given state education agencies (SEAs) considerably more responsibilities for directing and guiding the improvement of low-performing schools. At the same time, they have pressed SEAs and school districts to incorporate research-based school improvement policies and practices in their statewide systems of support for low-performing schools, technical assistance for districts, professional development for teachers, and school improvement programs. Policymakers have urged SEAs to engage with organizations external to their own agencies to extend their strained capacity, and to help them collect and use research or other evidence. A variety of organizations involved in this enterprise have emerged over the last two decades. For example, the 2002 authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's (ESEA) comprehensive assistance centers was specifically designed to provide and encourage SEA's use of research. Although studies of districts' and schools' use of research exist, we know little about how SEAs search for, select, and use research and other kinds of evidence in their school improvement strategies. While one might assume similarities in research use behaviors, both the organizational structures of SEAs and the population of external organizations with which they interact are quite different than schools and districts, and the most recent in-depth study of SEAs was conducted nearly 20 years ago. The exploratory study on which this brief is based was designed to fill that gap by examining: 1) where SEA staff search for research, evidence-based, and practitioner knowledge related to school improvement; 2) whether and how SEA staff use research and these other types of knowledge to design, implement, and refine state school improvement policies, programs and practices; and, 3) how SEAs are organized to manage and use such knowledge.

Holding High Hopes: How High Schools Respond to State Accountability Policies

January 1, 2005

American public education faces increasing pressure to carry out its mission of preparing youths with the skills to compete in today's global economy and to participate constructively in a democratic society. As part of this pressure, policymakers have developed increasingly sophisticated accountability and support systems to steer schools towards improved performance. These "new accountability" approaches emphasize student performance over system inputs, focus on schools rather than school districts as units of improvement, and use public reporting of student outcomes and rewards and sanctions as ways to motivate schools to alter their curriculum and instructional practices (Fuhrman, 1999). These strategies embody two key assumptions: (a) that accountability systems can be made powerful enough to influence the behavior of schools; and (b) that schools have or will develop the capacity to identify, select, and implement policies and practices that will improve their performance. Working under these assumptions, state and national policymakers have set academic goals, defined incentives, and provided supports, expecting that these actions would motivate schools to expend resources on improving organization, curriculum, and practice, and that schools' responses would improve educational programs and instruction and, in turn, improve student outcomes. State and national assessment results show that student performance in many elementary schools has improved over the last decade. Some researchers have argued that a portion of these gains can be attributed to the pressures generated by state accountability systems that have set standards, focused attention, and created stronger incentives for improved performance (Carnoy & Loeb, 2004; Grissmer & Flanagan, 1998; Grissmer, Flanagan, Kawata, & Williamson, 2000; Hanushek & Raymond, 2002). High schools, however, have not experienced the same positive effects, and we know little about how high school staff respond to new external accountability pressures. The study (Gross & Goertz, 2005) reviewed in this issue of CPRE Policy Briefs provides insight into how teachers and administrators in American public high schools are influenced by and attempt to address the problems posed by standards based state accountability systems. Our analysis builds upon earlier studies that used smaller and less representative samples of secondary schools (e.g., Carnoy, Elmore, & Siskin, 2003), sometimes agreeing with and sometimes challenging their conclusions about the effects of increased accountability and high schools.

The District Role in Building Capacity: Four Strategies

September 1, 2000

School districts strongly influence the strategic choices that schools make to improve teaching and learning. Districts -- composed of local school boards, superintendents, and central office staff -- act as gatekeepers for federal and state policy by translating, interpreting, supporting, or blocking actions on their schools' behalf. In fact, the efforts of districts to build the capacity of students, teachers, and schools are often the major, and sometimes only, source of external assistance that schools receive. In an effort to revisit the often forgotten role of districts in the improvement process, this policy brief explores the promises and challenges of four major capacity-building strategies that CPRE researchers observed in 22 districts in California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, and Texas over a two-year period.

State Strategies for Building Capacity: Addressing the Needs of Standards-Based Reform

July 1, 1998

Over the past decade or more, state policymakers have concentrated on putting the architecture of standards-based reform in place: setting challenging academic content standards and performance standards for all students; and instituting compatible tests, incentives, and accountability systems to reinforce these ambitious outcomes. Many states and districts have also restructured their governance systems to delegate more authority to local decision-makers.But clearly defined learning goals and accountability systems do not by themselves yield continued improvement in student learning. Some states with high standards and related assessment and accountability programs in place are finding that their early gains in student achievement have plateaued in certain academic areas. Furthermore, achievement gaps between students from majority groups and those from minority groups continue to exist, and students with disabilities still have poorer educational outcomes than other students.Acknowledging that clear standards and strong incentives alone are not sufficient to dramatically change teaching and learning, policymakers and policy analysts have started to talk about and implement "capacity-building" strategies. "Capacity" in this policy context refers to the wherewithal needed to translate high standards and incentives into effective inby Diane Massell struction and strong student performance. This issue of CPRE Policy Briefs examines capacity-building strategies used in eight states, and analyzes their promise and continuing challenges.One way of defining capacity is to ask what elements are needed to support effective instruction. People often think of capacity in terms of teachers' knowledge and skills. But effective classrooms also require quality instructional materials and students motivated and ready to learn. And, classrooms exist within larger contexts--the school, the school district, and the state education system--that provide educational direction and leadership, and influence social norms as well as access to resources and knowledge.The capacity of classrooms and of organizations that support classrooms fall into seven areas we think are essential to generating improvement in teaching and learning.

Persistence and Change: Standards-Based Reform in Nine States

March 1, 1997

Beginning in the mid-to-late-1980s, state policymakers began to rethink their strategies for influencing curriculum and instruction in public education and adopted a policy strategy known as standards-based, systemic reform. The rapidity with which the idea of standards-based, systemic reform took hold is remarkable, if not without historical precedent in the strongly networked field of education. Originally incubating quietly in the enclaves of professional subject-matter associations like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, efforts to set standards and articulate systemic reforms based on them were soon generated by nearly every state in the union (American Federation of Teachers, 1995) and a large array of urban, suburban and rural districts. Support came from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and associations as diverse as the Business Roundtable, the National Governors Association, and the American Federation of Teachers. Indeed, standards-based reform enjoyed high bipartisan consensus. But this consensus began to fray somewhat as standards-based reform ideas were translated into real policies. Federal policy efforts, notably Goals 2000 and the reauthorized Elementary Secondary Education Act, and some of the state reforms, occasioned significant debates about the possibility of greater control over localities traditional autonomy in the area of curriculum. For example, Congressional and state-level policymakers strongly challenged such elements as the national panel envisioned by Goals 2000 that would have had the authority to certify the quality of states standards. This issue of CPRE Policy Briefs takes a look at how, against this backdrop, standards-based, systemic reforms evolved in nine states during the 1994-95 period. Our research is based on in-depth interviews with policymakers and educators in California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, South Carolina and Texas and in 25 districts in those states. The focus of this brief is to analyze the persistence and transformation of these new instructional guidance strategies, and the issues and challenges they have confronted.The research presented in this policy brief is part of CPRE's Systemic Reform Study, a joint project conducted by the Policy Center of CPRE in conjunction with the National Center for Research on Teacher Learning (NCRTL). The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI).