How Tennessee districts are honing in on strategies to address struggling schools
The roadmap to improve struggling schools includes effectively retaining teachers, and leaders that are qualified for the work in the building, according to a recently published study by Tennessee’s research partner.
The blueprint, published last week by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, lays out five factors that can drive improvement at the lowest-performing schools in the state.
The framework is being adopted in part or entirely by each of the state’s districts with chronically low-performing schools and comes as $8.25 million in statewide grants are available to 10 schools statewide.
Metro Nashville Public Schools has taken parts of the framework into consideration through its strategy to turn around low-performing schools.
And the Tennessee Achievement School District is revamping its strategies while Hamilton County Schools has partnered with the state to build around the framework to drive school improvement.
The research and funds show a more cooperative environment for school improvement statewide.
The research relies heavily on the successes like those in Shelby County Schools, where the district has seen some of the most pronounced gains in school improvement efforts.
The research also lists other strategies to succeed in school improvement. The full list is:
- Establish a dedicated organizational infrastructure.
- Identify and address barriers to improvement.
- Increase instructional capacity.
- Increase leadership capacity.
- Implement processes and practices to maintain stability.
Often, the schools with the highest need have some of the highest teacher turnover. When educators leave, they take with them their training and institutional knowledge, said Gary Henry, a Vanderbilt University professor who studies school improvement efforts and coauthored last week’s report.
“The schools need to address the underlying barriers for retention,” Henry said.
Nashville’s revamped efforts
MNPS has overhauled its efforts to address struggling schools, which occurred amidst the district seeing 21 schools land on the state’s “priority list,” or the bottom 5 percent of all schools in terms of academic achievement.
The district’s strategy touches on parts of the research framework, said Lisa Coons, schools of innovation director. She said the district also used other research to develop its plan to address low-performing schools.
“We always look at all the research out there and contextualize it to Nashville,” Coons said.
If the district doesn’t show improvement at those schools, it is at risk of state takeover by the Achievement School District. Nashville currently has two ASD schools run by a charter operator.
The district’s strategy zeros in on four areas to improve schools: school leadership, effective instruction, growing talent, and student and family support systems. Coons met with Vanderbilt researchers over the summer to have preliminary discussions about the research, she said.
How Nashville will use the state grants
Coons said the district will use the up to $275,000 a year statewide grants it received at three schools to boost those efforts.
Antioch and McKissick middle schools are focusing their money on math instruction. McMurry Middle School is planning its efforts around English language instruction.
Those schools have more financial flexibility, Coons said, but other schools will need to be prudent in their expenses.
MNPS board member Gini Pupo-Walker said she’d like to see the district leverage its funds further through more community involvement. She also wants to see more details on how the district will work with the state in its improvement of low-performing schools.
“I don’t have a good sense for how deep our partnership is with the state,” Pupo-Walker said. “I think having a strong partnership with the state is essential.”
Hamilton Co. and ASD schools efforts
In Chattanooga, for instance, Hamilton County Schools and the state have created the State Partnership network that aims to boost academics at its lowest-performing schools in conjunction with state leaders.
Henry said Chattanooga’s plans are aligned to Vanderbilt’s research, but the district also invested heavily in building an infrastructure to improve their schools.
The Achievement School District is also shifting its work to align closer to the research, Griffin said. The district has needed to rethink its strategies after similar research found the ASD’s takeover efforts weren’t producing substantial results.
State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said she’s had conversations with Nashville schools about improvement and pitched a similar partnership as in Hamilton County.
“As an alternative to the Achievement School District, I also discussed a neighborhood or community approach that focused state and local support on a subset of schools in similar to fashion to the Partnership Network in Hamilton County,” McQueen said.[Read more at the Tennessean]