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Forgotten Youth: Re-Engaging Students Through Dropout Recovery

November 13, 2012

Each year, thousands of Massachusetts students drop out of school. The path forward for these students is difficult, and failing to fully educate the next generation of workers and leaders has substantial long-term consequences for our shared economic and social well-being. To address this, policymakers have devoted significant attention in recent years to raising high school graduation rates through dropout reduction strategies. Missing from this agenda, however, is any significant focus on dropout recovery, the act of re-engaging and re-enrolling students who leave school before graduating. Without a more systemic approach to connect with out-of-school youth, we will continue to struggle to fulfill our commitment to educate all students.To address this need, Boston Public Schools has established the Re-Engagement Center, a dropout recovery program that strives to re-enroll out-of-school youth through outreach, personal connections, and a variety of educational options that support students to graduation. The Rennie Center conducted a case study of the Re-Engagement Center in Spring 2012, the findings of which are highlighted in the policy brief Forgotten Youth: Re-Engaging Students Through Dropout Recovery.The purpose of this brief is to make a contribution to a growing body of work about dropout recovery. The brief begins by discussing the role of dropout recovery as a strategy to increase the graduation rate, identifies common practices in other dropout recovery models, and documents the development and operation of the Re-Engagement Center. Forgotten Youth then identifies promising practices and ongoing challenges of this program, and concludes by offering considerations -- based on literature and research findings -- for school and district leaders, community partners, and state policymakers.

Smart School Budgeting: Resources for Districts

October 3, 2012

In an era of aggressive public education reform, school districts face increasing pressure to produce higher levels of student performance with increasingly limited resources. The economic downturn has forced many districts to tighten their belts, and careful thought must be given to how each and every dollar is spent. Optimally, district leaders should work with stakeholders in their communities to set goals, analyze current spending, provide transparency in their budgeting, and consider cost-saving and reallocation strategies. The Rennie Center has created a toolkit, Smart School Budgeting: Resources for Districts, aiming to assist district leaders in decision-making about school budgeting. Smart School Budgeting is intended to push school leaders to take a more deliberative approach to school budgeting. The resources presented in the toolkit act as a starting point for districts examining their own budgeting processes. The document is designed as a user-friendly summary of existing literature and tools on school finance, budgeting, and resource allocation that directs district leaders and school business officials to practical and useful information to shape resource decisions. Each section includes an overview of a critical topic in school budgeting, summaries of useful documents and resources, relevant case studies (if available), and a resource list with hyperlinked documents for easy access. The toolkit is organized around the following topics: introduction and context for school budget analysis; setting goals; types of budgets; strategies for analyzing spending; tools for budget analysis; and cost-saving strategies.This toolkit was released at a public event on October 3, 2012.

Educating the Next Generation of Massachusetts Teachers: Building Effective Partnerships in Preparation and Support

June 28, 2012

A centerpiece of Massachusetts' public education reform agenda is to ensure all children benefit from excellent teaching. The state's $250 million Race to the Top plan includes strategies for attracting and retaining a quality workforce, instituting a new statewide framework for teacher evaluation, and ensuring high-quality educators in high-needs districts. Achieving the state's goals begins by preparing all teachers to enter their classrooms with the tools needed to be successful. This requires a strong foundation in both theoretical and applied practice. A pervasive challenge is that many teacher preparation programs operate in isolation, removed from the realities of working in today's schools. A new model for teacher preparation is needed, based on strong partnerships between institutions of higher education and school districts that allow for extensive field experiences where teacher candidates develop their craft in the settings where they will ultimately work.

Labor-Management-Community Collaboration in Springfield Public Schools

February 28, 2012

Few people hail teachers' unions as leaders of education reform. Teachers' unions are routinely characterized as part of the problem, protecting the interests of members at the expense of quality instruction and exercising unchecked political power. School districts fare little better in the public eye; they are often perceived as large, ineffective bureaucracies which perpetuate under-performance among low-income and minority students. Furthermore, community involvement in public education reform, though a widespread phenomenon, is largely unrecognized in the national policy debate about the future of schools. Given this, it is difficult to imagine three less likely partners in education reform than a local teachers' union (labor), district leaders (management), and local organizations and foundations (community). Yet the work of some education and community leaders has shown that collaboration between labor, management, and community has the potential to build capacity and improve student learning.

A Revolving Door: Challenges and Solutions to Educating Mobile Students

September 20, 2011

The problem of students changing schools in the middle of the school year is not new. The consequences of these changes, however, are increasingly dire. Student mobility, defined as students' movement into and out of schools and school districts during a school year, is particularly prevalent among low-income, immigrant and minority children, whose families are often susceptible to changes in housing that precipitate changes in the schools they attend. In an era in which all students are held to high standards, the disruption caused by moving from school to school -- sometimes multiple times within one school year -- can have devastating results for mobile students as well as the teachers and non-mobile students in the schools from which these students depart and to which they arrive.The purpose of this report is to shed light on the challenges associated with high rates of student mobility in order to best identify and disseminate promising strategies for overcoming these challenges -- both inside and outside of schools. The report is intended to highlight the issue of student mobility and focus policymakers' attention on the changes needed in policy and practice at state and local levels to best serve these students. The ultimate goal is to ensure that mobile students are provided with every opportunity to receive the high quality education that will enable them to become successful, productive citizens.This report focuses on districts in Massachusetts' Gateway Cities; in these 11 school districts, 35,000 students moved at least once during the 2008 -- 09 school year, representing 35% of all mobile students statewide. In some of these districts, nearly one-third of the students changed schools during the course of the year. This report describes the scale of Massachusetts' student mobility problem and the challenges student mobility presents in 11 schools in 6 Gateway City districts (Brockton, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Springfield, and Worcester). Findings were gathered from interviews with 43 school and district staff members in the 6 Gateway Cities school districts listed above.The report also provides examples of promising school-, district- and state-level strategies for mitigating the negative impact of mobility. The final section puts forth considerations for action for Massachusetts policymakers. The report suggests that Massachusetts policymakers:develop the Readiness Passport and incorporate individual indicators of student mobility;expand current efforts to better understand the implications of student mobility and support the districts most impacted by it; develop a more flexible and responsive funding system; consider how to incorporate student mobility into the state accountability system while holding all students to high standards; encourage schools of education to incorporate training for working with mobile students; and promote interagency collaboration to address the root causes of student mobility. The report was the subject of discussion during a public event in Holyoke, MA on September 20, 2011.

Executive Summary: A Revolving Door: Challenges and Solutions to Educating Mobile Students

September 20, 2011

The problem of students changing schools in the middle of the school year is not new. The consequences of these changes, however, are increasingly dire. Student mobility, defined as students' movement into and out of schools and school districts during a school year, is particularly prevalent among low-income, immigrant and minority children, whose families are often susceptible to changes in housing that precipitate changes in the schools they attend. In an era in which all students are held to high standards, the disruption caused by moving from school to school -- sometimes multiple times within one school year -- can have devastating results for mobile students as well as the teachers and non-mobile students in the schools from which these students depart and to which they arrive.The purpose of this report is to shed light on the challenges associated with high rates of student mobility in order to best identify and disseminate promising strategies for overcoming these challenges -- both inside and outside of schools. The report is intended to highlight the issue of student mobility and focus policymakers' attention on the changes needed in policy and practice at state and local levels to best serve these students. The ultimate goal is to ensure that mobile students are provided with every opportunity to receive the high quality education that will enable them to become successful, productive citizens.This report focuses on districts in Massachusetts' Gateway Cities; in these 11 school districts, 35,000 students moved at least once during the 2008 -- 09 school year, representing 35% of all mobile students statewide. In some of these districts, nearly one-third of the students changed schools during the course of the year. This report describes the scale of Massachusetts' student mobility problem and the challenges student mobility presents in 11 schools in 6 Gateway City districts (Brockton, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Springfield, and Worcester). Findings were gathered from interviews with 43 school and district staff members in the 6 Gateway Cities school districts listed above.The report also provides examples of promising school-, district- and state-level strategies for mitigating the negative impact of mobility. The final section puts forth considerations for action for Massachusetts policymakers. The report suggests that Massachusetts policymakers:develop the Readiness Passport and incorporate individual indicators of student mobility; expand current efforts to better understand the implications of student mobility and support the districts most impacted by it; develop a more flexible and responsive funding system; consider how to incorporate student mobility into the state accountability system while holding all students to high standards; encourage schools of education to incorporate training for working with mobile students; and promote interagency collaboration to address the root causes of student mobility. The report was the subject of discussion during a public event in Holyoke, MA on September 20, 2011.

Student Learning Plans: Supporting Every Student's Transition to College and Career

June 30, 2011

Student learning plans (SLPs) represent an emerging practice in how public schools across the country are supporting the development of students' college and career readiness skills. Learning plans are student-driven planning and monitoring tools that provide opportunities to identify postsecondary goals, explore college and career options and develop the skills necessary to be autonomous, self-regulated learners. Currently, 23 states plus the District of Columbia require that students develop learning plans, and Massachusetts state policymakers are considering whether all middle and high school students should be required to develop learning plans. Legislation is currently pending that calls for the Executive Office of Education to convene an advisory group to investigate and study a development and implementation process for six-year career planning to be coordinated by licensed school guidance counselors for all students in grades 6 to 12.The purpose of the policy brief Student Learning Plans: Supporting Every Student's Transition to College and Career is to provide policymakers in Massachusetts with a better understanding of what student learning plans are as well as how and to what extent their use is mandated in other states. The brief is organized into five major sections: an overview of SLPs and the rationale for their use in public K-12 education; an overview of the research on the effectiveness of SLPs on improving a variety of student outcomes, including engagement, responsibility, motivation, long-term postsecondary college and career planning; current state trends in mandating SLPs for all students, including the structure and implementation of SLPs, their connection to other high school reform initiatives and their alignment with state and federal career awareness and workforce development initiatives; promising implementation strategies; and, considerations for state policymakers.Considerations for Massachusetts policymakers include: learn from states that are pioneers in the implementation of SLPs for all students; develop a comprehensive implementation plan; and, strengthen career counseling and career awareness activities in Massachusetts schools.The policy brief was the subject of discussion during a public webinar on June 30, 2011.

Executive Summary: Act Out, Get Out? Considering the Impact of School Discipline Practices in Massachusetts

May 26, 2011

Recently, testimony from three public hearings in Massachusetts suggested that excessive disciplinary action for non-violent offenses, such as tardiness and truancy, exacerbates the dropout crisis. Testimony indicated that students already behind in school are often forced to miss additional days through suspensions, which leads to a loss of credits and an inability to catch up. Some parents, educators, education stakeholders, and coalitions, including the Massachusetts Graduation and Dropout Prevention and Recovery Commission, have called for a closer look at school discipline policies and practice. Many observers have come to believe that fully understanding the role of discipline is an essential step in tackling the problem of why some Massachusetts students are not staying in school. It is within this context that the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy embarked upon its examination of school discipline in Massachusetts.Act Out, Get Out? Considering the Impact of School Discipline Practices in Massachusetts reviews why discipline policies are necessary, laws governing these policies, and national research on the effects of disciplinary removal. The brief then describes overall trends in the disciplinary removal (suspensions and expulsions) of Massachusetts public school students over time (school year 2005-2006 through 2008-2009) and findings from a more in-depth analysis of discipline data from the 2007-2008 school year. Key findings from data about the 2007-2008 school year include: 1. For the most serious infractions, those involving illegal substances, violence and criminal activities the most common reason for disciplinary removal is violence; 2. Out-of-school suspension is the most frequently used form of disciplinary removal; 3. The number of disciplinary removals peaks at 9th grade and declines in 10th through 12th grade; 4. Particular segments (low-income, special education, male, black, Hispanic) of the student population are removed at disproportionately high rates.This policy brief highlights essential questions that need to be answered in order to fully understand how discipline policies are being carried out and to tease out the relationship between disciplinary removal, the achievement gap, and dropping out of public schools in Massachusetts. The final section of the brief puts forth considerations for policymakers and K-12 school and district leaders. The brief suggests there is a need for more detailed and complete record keeping of school discipline data as well as for more schools and districts to implement school-wide preventative approaches and alternative education programs for students who have been removed. The brief also questions the extent to which of out-of-school suspensions are used for non-violent, non-criminal offenses, particularly those for Pre-Kindergarten and Elementary School aged students.The brief was the subject of discussion at a public event on May 26, 2010.

The Road Ahead for State Assessments

May 16, 2011

The adoption of the Common Core State Standards offers an opportunity to make significant improvements to the large-scale statewide student assessments that exist today, and the two US DOE-funded assessment consortia -- the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) -- are making big strides forward. But to take full advantage of this opportunity the states must focus squarely on making assessments both fair and accurate.A new report commissioned by the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy and Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), The Road Ahead for State Assessments, offers a blueprint for strengthening assessment policy, pointing out how new technologies are opening up new possibilities for fairer, more accurate evaluations of what students know and are able to do. Not all of the promises can yet be delivered, but the report provides a clear set of assessment-policy recommendations. The Road Ahead for State Assessments includes three papers on assessment policy.The first, by Mark Reckase of Michigan State University, provides an overview of computer adaptive assessment. Computer adaptive assessment is an established technology that offers detailed information on where students are on a learning continuum rather than a summary judgment about whether or not they have reached an arbitrary standard of "proficiency" or "readiness." Computer adaptivity will support the fair and accurate assessment of English learners (ELs) and lead to a serious engagement with the multiple dimensions of "readiness" for college and careers.The second and third papers give specific attention to two areas in which we know that current assessments are inadequate: assessments in science and assessments for English learners.In science, paper-and-pencil, multiple choice tests provide only weak and superficial information about students' knowledge and skills -- most specifically about their abilities to think scientifically and actually do science. In their paper, Chris Dede and Jody Clarke-Midura of Harvard University illustrate the potential for richer, more authentic assessments of students' scientific understanding with a case study of a virtual performance assessment now under development at Harvard. With regard to English learners, administering tests in English to students who are learning the language, or to speakers of non-standard dialects, inevitably confounds students' content knowledge with their fluency in Standard English, to the detriment of many students. In his paper, Robert Linquanti of WestEd reviews key problems in the assessment of ELs, and identifies the essential features of an assessment system equipped to provide fair and accurate measures of their academic performance.The report's contributors offer deeply informed recommendations for assessment policy, but three are especially urgent.Build a system that ensures continued development and increased reliance on computer adaptive testing. Computer adaptive assessment provides the essential foundation for a system that can produce fair and accurate measurement of English learners' knowledge and of all students' knowledge and skills in science and other subjects. Developing computer adaptive assessments is a necessary intermediate step toward a system that makes assessment more authentic by tightly linking its tasks and instructional activities and ultimately embedding assessment in instruction. It is vital for both consortia to keep these goals in mind, even in light of current technological and resource constraints.Integrate the development of new assessments with assessments of English language proficiency (ELP). The next generation of ELP assessments should take into consideration an English learners' specific level of proficiency in English. They will need to be based on ELP standards that sufficiently specify the target academic language competencies that English learners need to progress in and gain mastery of the Common Core Standards. One of the report's authors, Robert Linquanti, states: "Acknowledging and overcoming the challenges involved in fairly and accurately assessing ELs is integral and not peripheral to the task of developing an assessment system that serves all students well. Treating the assessment of ELs as a separate problem -- or, worse yet, as one that can be left for later -- calls into question the basic legitimacy of assessment systems that drive high-stakes decisions about students, teachers, and schools." Include virtual performance assessments as part of comprehensive state assessment systems. Virtual performance assessments have considerable promise for measuring students' inquiry and problem-solving skills in science and in other subject areas, because authentic assessment can be closely tied to or even embedded in instruction. The simulation of authentic practices in settings similar to the real world opens the way to assessment of students' deeper learning and their mastery of 21st century skills across the curriculum. We are just setting out on the road toward assessments that ensure fair and accurate measurement of performance for all students, and support for sustained improvements in teaching and learning. Developing assessments that realize these goals will take time, resources and long-term policy commitment. PARCC and SBAC are taking the essential first steps down a long road, and new technologies have begun to illuminate what's possible. This report seeks to keep policymakers' attention focused on the road ahead, to ensure that the choices they make now move us further toward the goal of college and career success for all students. This publication was released at an event on May 16, 2011.

Meeting the Challenge: Fiscal Implications of Dropout Prevention in Massachusetts

March 1, 2011

In 2009, for the first time in a decade, Massachusetts' dropout rate fell below three percent. While this progress is promising, there remain nearly 8,300 students who did not earn their high school diplomas during the 2009-2010 school year. Given that these individuals face significantly lower earning potential, fewer prospects for employment, much higher rates of incarceration and health problems, and are much more likely to utilize public assistance than those who graduate, there is continued cause for concern and attention to the goal of ensuring that every student receives their high school diploma.In the current environment of constrained resources, many districts are reluctant to launch new programs or improve existing services that provide additional supports for students at risk of dropping out. Declines in revenue combined with rising costs have constricted local education budgets, forcing superintendents and school business officers to make tough decisions about which programs to fund and which must be cut. It is within this context that the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy engaged in a study to not only explore promising dropout reduction approaches across Massachusetts, but to also examine the costs and benefits of promising practices for reducing the number of students dropping out of school.Meeting the Challenge: Fiscal Implications of Dropout Prevention in Massachusetts, conducted with support from the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officers (MASBO), explores the approaches, costs and potential financial benefits of implementing dropout reduction strategies. It highlights a diverse group of five Massachusetts districts that have substantially reduced their dropout rates over the past three years and identifies the district-wide policies and school-based strategies that superintendents and principals indicate have contributed to reducing the number of students dropping out of school. The brief also presents two scenarios that illustrate how, for some districts, per pupil funding obtained from increased enrollment due to successful dropout prevention strategies can be allocated to serve at-risk students.Considerations for School and District LeadersIncorporate strategies that promote engagement and student success into every aspect of the school experience.Support staff in taking on new roles and responsibilities.Analyze data to determine what works and allocate resources accordingly.Use the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Early Warning Indicator Index to budget for dropout prevention initiatives for incoming high school students.Formalize strategies for reaching out to and re-engaging students who have dropped out.Considerations for State PolicymakersWork to establish sustainable funding streams for districts' dropout prevention initiatives.Continue to promote, provide and seek ways to expand data collection and analysis tools for schools and districts.Strengthen the ability of districts to establish partnerships with community based social service agencies, local businesses and institutions of higher education.Facilitate outreach to dropouts.Expand alternative education options.This policy brief was released at a public event on March 1st, 2011.

Charting the Course: Four Years of the Thomas W. Payzant School on the Move Prize

November 3, 2010

Every spring since 2006, EdVestors (www.edvestors.org) invites Boston Public schools with 4-year rates of improvement on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests that are significantly (50% or more) greater than the district average to apply for a $100,000 School on the Move Prize (SOM). Since the creation of the Prize, the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy has served as EdVestors' research partner, identifying and documenting lessons from the winning schools. This report draws upon the previous SOM case studies produced by the Rennie Center, along with interviews with school leaders, staff and students. The study identifies common themes across all four winning schools that describe the structures and strategies put in place to better serve students, as well as some of the opportunities and barriers the schools have faced in sustaining their success since winning the award. Finally, the study highlights some key lessons the leaders of these four schools view as critical to implementing the strategies and practices outlined to support students and improve outcomes.Over the past four years, a diverse group of schools have emerged as winners, including two pilot schools -- one a high school and the other an elementary school -- a traditional K-8 school and a small high school occupying one floor of the South Boston Education Complex. These schools also represent the diverse neighborhoods in Boston, including Dorchester, Roxbury, Brighton, and South Boston. Despite differences in structure, governance and grades served, all four winning schools do share some similar characteristics. First, they all experienced significant structural changes in the immediate years prior to winning the SOM Prize that provided an opportunity for reflection and strategic planning. Second, they are all relatively small schools with lower enrollments than most comparable schools with the same grade configurations in the district. Third, they are all led by experienced educators who are strong leaders with deep knowledge of the Boston Public School system. Finally, they all share common practices that have been critical to their success in improving student achievement, including: Shared Leadership -- Shared Learning: Distributed leadership grounded in shared accountability between administrators and teachers toward a goal of instructional excellence and increased student achievement; Data-driven Instruction: Intentional systems to use data to drive decisions about curriculum, instruction and student supports; andAcademic Rigor and Student Support: A student-centered approach that balances high academic expectations with integrated academic and developmental supports targeted to student needs.

Executive Summary: A New Era in Education Reform: Preparing All Students for Success in College, Career and Life

October 8, 2010

As society changes, the knowledge and skills required for citizens to navigate the complexities of life and work must also change. As a result, some argue that schools must provide students with a broader set of skills that will enable them to thrive in our increasingly diverse, rapidly evolving and globally-connected world. The intent is not to replace the traditional academic disciplines but to infuse them with knowledge and skills that will better prepare students for success in the 21st century -- often referred to as "21st century skills." While others maintain that as long as a portion of the student population is not mastering basic reading, writing and mathematics skills, schools must continue to focus exclusively on the traditional core academic disciplines. In order to inform the debate about the rationale for and relevance of 21st century skills in Massachusetts' public schools, the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy conducted a survey of superintendents, charter school leaders and principals statewide to gauge the extent to which school and district leaders support the integration of 21st century skills into public education. The goal of the survey was to provide a better understanding of Massachusetts' public school and district leaders' priorities for improving student learning, including their views on 21st century skills. The survey was followed by interviews with a small sample of administrators and educators in districts and schools where the integration of 21st century skills is a priority, in order to better understand district, school and teacher approaches for infusing 21st century skills into teaching and learning.Findings in 8 areas are presented in the Executive Summary along with considerations for state policymakers and leaders of Massachusetts schools and districts.Defining 21st Century SkillsState Leadership and SupportAccountabilityTeacher Training and Professional DevelopmentTechnologyStrategic planningTeacher leadershipSharing among colleaguesThe full report describes the background and context for the study, the study methodology, and key findings from the statewide survey and interviews in a sample of schools and districts. The final section of the report puts forth considerations for policymakers and K-12 school and district leaders. Case studies of two public school districts, Reading Public Schools and Brockton Public Schools are included in Appendix B. The case studies offer two different approaches to integrating 21st century skills district-wide. The case study of Reading Public Schools illustrates a district-led approach. The case study of Brockton Public Schools is an example of how one school has spurred a district to focus on 21st century skills.This report was released at a public event on October 7th, 2010. View video clips from this event on our YouTube channel and read an EdWeek article featuring this report.