Gateways to Achievement: a State Education Agency-Led Strategy to Catalyze Innovative School and District Turnaround Efforts
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CitationRodriguez, Ventura. 2015. Gateways to Achievement: a State Education Agency-Led Strategy to Catalyze Innovative School and District Turnaround Efforts. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractOver the past 20 years, State Education Agencies have expanded their traditional role, focused on distributing federal funds and compliance monitoring, to become responsible for developing state-level standards, measuring student progress and, in some cases, intervening directly in low performing schools. In Massachusetts, the state’s lowest performing schools are placed into Level 5 receivership, and the state’s education Commissioner selects school operators to run the schools on the state’s behalf. However, the availability of school operators is insufficient to meet the state’s needs and expanding current efforts is not financially sustainable. The Gateways to Achievement (GtA) Initiative attempts to catalyze school improvement efforts by: 1) increasing the supply of school operators able to successfully operate low performing schools, and 2) using the state’s authority of Level 5 receivership to incentivize districts to develop aggressive, voluntary school turnaround strategies. The goal is that the districts’ aggressive turnaround strategies, which include partnerships with school operators, will improve struggling schools such that Level 5 receivership is not required. The GtA Initiative was developed by Massachusetts education reformer Chris Gabrieli and Commissioner Mitchell Chester. My strategic project focused on building awareness and support within the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for the GtA initiative, and aligning it to the most important problems the agency was trying to solve. The GtA Initiative’s first manifestation was The Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (SEZP), an innovative partnership between Springfield Public Schools and DESE that utilizes many of the Level 5 authorities, but allows the target schools to remain under the control of local education officials. In a time of declining federal and state funds, the SEZP provides an example of how DESE may approach school turnaround efforts moving forward. However, DESE will first need to decide how the initiative, and indeed the naming of Level 5 receivers, fits within the state’s current theory of action guiding school and district turnaround efforts. Additionally, the agency will need to determine if it wants to bring the necessary capacity to identify and execute these types of innovative partnerships in-house, or continue to partner with outside groups.
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