The University of Virginia’s Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE) announces that after a year-long partnership with the Cincinnati Public School's (CPS) Elementary Initiative, the district is showing such unprecedented results that the PLE plans to designate it as a national model for turning around struggling schools.
CPS’ Elementary Initiative is a comprehensive strategy to improve performance in 16 of its lowest-performing elementary schools. In September 2008, the CPS’ new interim superintendent, Mary Ronan, declared that the children in low-performing schools would no longer languish in a system where they could go from kindergarten through 8th grade in a school that has never measured up to federal guidelines. Strategies for improving the system included realignment of resources to address the needs of individual children, success plans for each child, and extending learning time by a month at each school.
In spite of those improvements, it was apparent that culture change would not happen without outstanding leadership at each school. With support from the GE Foundation, the district reached out to U.Va.’s PLE to form a partnership in May 2009. The PLE combines U.Va.’s Darden School of Business and the Curry School of Education to apply the most innovative thinking in business and education to help school and district teams build, support and sustain successful school turnarounds.
“We draw heavily from the experience of the Darden Executive Education program,” said LeAnn Buntrock, executive director of the PLE. “We bring that same level of executive education experience to leaders in the field of education.”
The PLE, which includes intense leadership training, helped district leaders and CPS principals apply highly successful business practices to their schools. For example, while the district's Elementary Initiative focused heavily on use of data, the PLE added strategies such as identifying and obtaining "quick wins," using "rapid resets" to test new initiatives, developing "90-day action plans" and establishing "data war rooms" to ensure that data gets used to identify issues, reallocate resources and address the needs of individual students.
"Every urban school district in the country is trying to turn around low-performing schools," said CPS’ Ronan, "but no other district has applied these principles on a scale like this."
The 16 targeted CPS schools represent nearly one-third of the district's schools and the largest application of the PLE program within a single district to date. From 2009 to 2010, significantly more students in these schools tested proficient in reading and math – with sixth graders in turnaround schools improving proficiency in both math and reading by an average of 15 percent. Data show progress toward closing the achievement gap as well. In math, for example, from 2009 to 2010, the gap between the low-performing schools and those that were not part of the Elementary Initiative — most of which serve schools in relatively more affluent neighborhoods and were already meeting proficiency requirements — closed by nearly seven points.
The Ohio Report Cards, annual reports rating how Ohio's schools and districts are doing academically based on test scores, graduation rates and other statistics, show that all but three of these schools posted measurable gains in overall test scores in 2009-2010. In the report card grading system, seven of CPS' worst-performing elementary schools have risen to a “Continuous Improvement” state designation, and five of these schools jumped two categories out of "academic emergency,” emerging from this category for the first time since Ohio started categorizing schools seven years ago.
While these schools still have significant progress to make, Buntrock confirms that the results achieved by CPS in one year can only be accomplished with close collaboration between the district and its schools, and a steadfast commitment to making difficult changes.
"Based on our experience with 48 districts across the country over the course of the past six years, this is the best district-wide implementation of a turnaround initiative at scale that we have seen," she said. "The CPS initiative could serve as a national model for this program."
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