Policy & Research

The 3 Most Common Practices in School Turnaround Efforts

The use of data to personalize instruction and increasing technology access for teachers or the use of computer instruction are two of the most common practices adopted by low-performing schools in a turnaround situation. A third common practice is the use of ongoing professional development that involves teachers working together or facilitation by school leaders. These three approaches are tried out by more than 96 percent of schools that have received federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs), according to a research project that is specifically studying the improvement practices adopted by low-performing schools.

Undertaken by the Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, the study is intended to understand the program's implementation and impact of the grants.

The grants are intended to improve student achievement by funding the implementation of one of four school intervention models:

  • Transformation, in which the district replaces the principal, develops an evaluation system for educators that takes into account student progress and other measures, including taking on decision-making usually made by district officials, such as hiring and firing and length of school day;
  • Turnaround, which is similar to the "transformation" model, with the difference that the district can rehire no more than half of the existing staff;
  • Restart, whereby the district converts the school into a charter or hands it over to a charter school operator; and
  • Closure, in which the school is shuttered and the students are moved to other schools in the district.

The practices in the transformation and turnaround models focus on five broad areas: instructional reform, including increased use of technology by teachers or students and the use of data to evaluate instructional programs and inform and differentiate instruction; teacher and principal effectiveness; increasing learning time and introducing new parent engagement strategies; and having operational flexibility and receiving support such as training and technical assistance from the district or state.

In spring 2013 researchers surveyed administrators from 480 low-performing schools, some of which were implementing a SIG "intervention model," and some that weren't.

Previous research had suggested that the low-performing schools do adopt some practices promoted by the four models, but little was known about how the schools combined practices.

The latest analysis found that:

  • Schools on average reported adopting 20 of 32 improvement practices promoted by the SIG transformation or turnaround models, but no school reported adopting all practices;
  • Almost every school reported adopting a unique combination of practices; but the three practices referenced earlier turned out to be far more common than any others; and
  • For 16 of the 32 practices, those schools implementing a SIG model were "statistically significantly" more likely to report adopting that practice than schools not implementing a SIG model.

What the study doesn't show yet is what the impact is of the various grant models and associated practices on learning outcomes. That will come in a future report, promises the Institute.

The 35-page PDF report is available on the Institute's site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.