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New Report Names Silicon Valley’s Lowest-Performing Schools and Calls for Urgent Action for Students

Nov. 12, 2014 – Silicon Valley – More than 15,000 students in Silicon Valley are currently attending schools that have been persistently low-performing for years, according to a new report from Innovate Public Schools. “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions” calls on local communities, especially superintendents and school boards, to take swift action to find lasting solutions for the students attending the 28 schools singled out in the report. It summarizes research from across the country on how to effectively turn around struggling schools and highlights examples of successful schools and turnaround efforts that can inform and inspire efforts in Silicon Valley.

Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions: Silicon Valley’s Lowest-Performing Schools and What Can Be Done for Students Who Attend Them

Read the full report.

Read the parent handout about the report.

Spanish version – Versión en español

“The students at these schools deserve an excellent education that will prepare them for success in life and they can’t wait 10 years for incremental improvement. We’ve seen from schools across the country that rapid and dramatic improvement is possible. We must take bold steps to turn around these schools so that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Matt Hammer, executive director of Innovate Public Schools. “The goal of this report is to outline steps for how we can go from where we are to where we want to be.”

Innovate identified Silicon Valley’s persistently low-performing schools based on multiple measures of school performance over a five-year period. The 28 public schools named in the list have low levels of proficiency, haven’t been improving very much for years, and also are low-performing even compared to schools around the state serving similar student populations. They are located in 13 different districts across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and include 19 elementary schools, six middle schools, two high schools and one K-12 school.

Hopefully, the information in this report won’t be seen as a judgment against our schools, but rather a tool to generate conversation about meaningful change”, said Leon Beauchman, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education. “We need to create a greater sense of urgency in order to ensure all students succeed.”

The report also highlights schools that are achieving very high levels of student performance while serving a majority of high-needs students, as well as what has been learned from school turnaround efforts across the country and locally. One district that has improved significantly is Alum Rock Unified School District, with three elementaries highlighted for “beating the odds”: Millard McCollam Elementary, Learning in an Urban Community with High Achievement (L.U.C.H.A), and James McEntee Elementary, which was created through a successful turnaround effort kicked off several years ago. In 2006, the district closed Lester W. Shields Elementary, a persistently low-performing school, and reopened it as two new schools (McEntee and Russo) in the same building. The district took the bold step of giving each school a new principal, almost all new teaching staff, and new curriculum.

“Effectively, the same kids were given a different school and the next year they were performing very differently because we were able to give them a different schooling, with different staff, with a different emphasis, with a focused curriculum,” said Alum Rock Superintendent Hilaria Bauer. “We knew we had to do something drastic and different that had never been tried before in the district. The focus was building the right team. I think that it gave everybody a new way of looking at schooling children. Sometimes change is important.”

“Nationwide, research shows that the issue of persistently low-performing schools disproportionately affects students from low-income backgrounds and students of color. Our report confirms that’s the case here in Silicon Valley as well,” said Jeimee Estrada, Director of Research and Policy for Innovate Public Schools.

Key Report Findings

Students at the lowest-performing schools are falling so far behind that it will become increasingly difficult for them to catch up.

Only 26 percent of students at these schools read at grade level by the third grade. In 2012-13, only 40 percent were at or above grade level as they headed from eighth grade to high school, and by the 11th grade, when students consider their college or career options, only 31 percent of students in the two high schools and the one K-12 school identified in this report were reading at grade level.

This problem is disproportionately hurting Latino and low-income students.

Of the 15,985 students who attend these 28 lowest-performing schools, 78 percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged, 81 percent are Latino, and 50 percent are English learners (EL). Some would argue that these schools’ low academic performance is simply due to the high-need populations they serve, but many schools across California prove what is possible – posting proficiency rates of 70 percent and higher, with the majority of their students being high-need.

Schools that are beating the odds show us we should set the bar far higher for both schools and students.

This report identified 122 schools in California that are beating the odds for low-income students – serving a majority of high-need students and achieving high levels of performance. Of all the high-performing schools in the state, five schools in Silicon Valley are identified as high-performing and have sustained that performance for three out of most recent five years looked at in our report. An additional eight schools in this region also meet these criteria for one or both of the two most recent years for which data are available.

Years of research and examples from across the country show that dramatic improvement is possible, but execution is key.

Over the past 10 years, much has been learned about what it takes to effectively turn around schools. Several different approaches have been shown to be effective, with these elements being common in most successful turnarounds: a culture of high expectations for all students and adults; a highly capable leader and staff; significant instructional and operational authority; and using data to identify what works.


Schools That Are Beating the Odds for High-Need Students



About Innovate Public Schools

Innovate Public Schools is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build the parent and community demand for world-class public schools, and to accelerate the growth of these schools, particularly for low-income students and students of color. We publish easy-to-understand school quality data and research that highlights both problems and solutions, and we build the capacity of parents, community leaders and educators to innovate and act together to create world-class public schools. Learn more at

Media Contact:

Sierra Jenkins


Nuevo Informe Nombra las Escuelas de Más Bajo Rendimiento en el Valle de Silicón y Hace un Llamado Urgente a la Acción para los Estudiantes

Nov. 12, 2014 – Valle de Silicón – Actualmente más de 15,000 estudiantes en el Valle de Silicón están asistiendo a escuelas que han mantenido un bajo rendimiento por años, de acuerdo a un nuevo informe de Innovate Public Schools. El informe hace un llamado a las comunidades locales, especialmente los superintendentes y las mesas directivas escolares, a tomar acción rápida a fin de encontrar soluciones duraderas para los estudiantes asistiendo a las 28 escuelas identificadas en el informe. Este informe resume las investigaciones realizadas nacionalmente acerca de cómo cambiar las escuelas con problemas de manera eficaz y realza ejemplos de escuelas con éxito y esfuerzos de cambiar para bien que pueden informar e inspirar los esfuerzos en el Valle de Silicón.

Las Escuelas de Más Bajo Rendimiento en el Valle de Silicón y Enfoques Prometedores Para Ayudar a los Estudiantes Que Asisten a Ellas

Lea el informe completo:


“Los estudiantes en estas escuelas merecen una educación excelente que los preparará para tener éxito en la vida y no pueden esperar 10 años para ver mejorías incrementales. Hemos visto en las escuelas a través del país que sí es posible obtener mejorías rápidas y dramáticas. Debemos tomar medidas audaces para cambiar estas escuelas para bien a fin de que todos los estudiantes tengan la oportunidad de alcanzar su pleno potencial,” dice Matt Hammer, director ejecutivo de Innovate Public Schools. “La meta de este informe es trazar medidas para ver cómo podemos ir de donde estamos a donde queremos estar.”

Innovate identificó las escuelas que mantienen un bajo rendimiento en base a múltiples medidas de rendimiento escolar durante un período de cinco años. Las 28 escuelas identificadas en la lista tienen bajos niveles de competencia en materias fundamentales, tienen años de no estar mejorando mucho, y también tienen un bajo rendimiento aun comparándolas con las escuelas estatales que sirven a las poblaciones estudiantiles similares. Están ubicadas en 13 distritos diferentes a través de los condados de Santa Clara y San Mateo e incluyen 19 escuelas primarias, seis escuelas secundarias, dos escuelas preparatorias y una escuela de K-12.

“Ojala la información contenida en este informe no será visto como un juicio en contra de nuestras escuelas, sino más bien una herramienta para generar conversación sobre como hacer cambios significativos”, dice Leon Beauchman, presidente de la mesa directiva de la Oficina de Educación del Condado de Santa Clara. “Tenemos que crear un mayor sentido de urgencia con el fin de asegurar que todos los estudiantes tengan éxito”.

El informe también realza las escuelas que están logrando niveles de alto rendimiento escolar mientras sirven una mayoría de estudiantes de alta necesidad, como también lo que se ha aprendido de los esfuerzos de cambiar las escuelas para bien a través de todo el país y también localmente. Un distrito que ha mejorado significativamente es el Distrito Escolar Unificado de Alum Rock, con tres escuelas primarias realzadas por “superar los obstáculos”: Millard McCollam Elementary, Learning in an Urban Community with High Achievement (L.U.C.H.A), y James McEntee Elementary, que fue creado por medio de un esfuerzo exitoso de cambiar para bien que se lanzó hace varios años. En el 2006, el distrito cerró Lester W. Shields Elementary, una escuela que mantenía un bajo rendimiento, y la abrió de nuevo como dos escuelas nuevas (McEntee y Russo) en el mismo edificio. El distrito tomó la medida audaz de darle a cada escuela un director nuevo, un personal docente nuevo casi por completo, y un currículum nuevo.

“De hecho, se les dio a los mismos niños una escuela diferente y el próximo año estaban rindiendo de manera muy diferente porque les pudimos dar una instrucción mejorada, con diferente personal, con un énfasis diferente, con un currículum enfocado,” dice Superintendente de Alum Rock Hilaria Bauer. “Sabíamos que teníamos que hacer algo drástico y diferente de lo que se había intentado antes en el distrito. El enfoque era formar el equipo correcto. Creo que les dio a todos una nueva manera de ver la instrucción de los niños. A veces el cambio es importante.”

“A nivel nacional, las investigaciones demuestran que el asunto de las escuelas que mantienen un bajo rendimiento afecta desproporcionadamente a los estudiantes de orígenes de bajos ingresos y los estudiantes de color. Nuestro informe confirma que es la misma situación aquí en el Valle de Silicón,” dice Jeimee Estrada, Directora de Investigaciones y Políticas de Innovate Public Schools.

Hallazgos Claves en el Informe

Los estudiantes en las escuelas de menor rendimiento se están quedando atrás a tal grado que será cada vez más difícil que se pongan al día.

Sólo el 26 por ciento de los estudiantes en estas escuelas leen a nivel del grado para cuando llegan al tercer grado. En el 2012-13, sólo el 40 por ciento estaban al nivel del grado o más arriba cuando pasaron del octavo grado a la escuela preparatoria, y para cuando están en el 11º grado, cuando los estudiantes consideran sus opciones para la universidad o una carrera, sólo el 31 por ciento de los estudiantes en dos escuelas preparatorias y la escuela de K-12 identificadas en este informe estaban leyendo a nivel del grado.

Este problema está dañando desproporcionadamente a los estudiantes latinos y de bajos ingresos.

De los 15,985 estudiantes que asisten a estas 28 escuelas de bajo rendimiento, el 78 por ciento son socioeconómicamente desfavorecidos, el 81 por ciento son latinos, y el 50 por ciento son estudiantes del inglés (EL por sus siglas en inglés). Algunos alegan que el bajo rendimiento académico de estas escuelas se debe simplemente a las poblaciones de alta necesidad que sirven, pero muchas escuelas a través de todo California comprueban lo que es posible – publicar índices de competencia académica del 70 por ciento o más alto, siendo la mayoría de sus estudiantes de alta necesidad.

Las escuelas que están superando los obstáculos nos demuestran que debemos establecer un estándar mucho más alto tanto para las escuelas como también para los estudiantes.

Este informe identificó a 122 escuelas en California que están superando los obstáculos para los estudiantes de bajos ingresos – sirviendo una mayoría de estudiantes de alta necesidad y logrando niveles altos de rendimiento. De todas las escuelas de alto rendimiento en el estado, cinco escuelas en el Valle de Silicón están identificadas como escuelas de alto rendimiento y han mantenido ese rendimiento por tres de los últimos cinco años más recientes analizados en nuestro informe. Siete escuelas adicionales en esta región también cumplen los criterios en uno o ambos de los dos años más recientes para los cuales existen datos.

Años de investigaciones y ejemplos nacionales demuestran que mejorar dramáticamente sí es posible, pero la ejecución es clave.

En los últimos 10 años, se ha aprendido mucho acerca de lo que se necesita para cambiar las escuelas para bien de manera eficaz. Varios enfoques se han demostrado ser eficaces, teniendo en común los siguientes elementos en las escuelas que tuvieron mayor éxito en cambiar para bien: una cultura de altas expectativas para todos los estudiantes y adultos; un director de escuela y personal altamente capaces; una autoridad de enseñanza y operativa significativa; y usar información para identificar lo que funciona.

Las Escuelas de Más Bajo Rendimiento en el Val­le de Silicón



Las Escuelas Que Están Superando los Obstáculos para los Estudiantes de Alta Necesidad



Información Acerca de Innovate Public Schools

Innovate Public Schools es una organización comunitaria sin fines de lucro enfocada en asegurar que los estudiantes de bajos ingresos y los niños de color en el Valle de Silicón y en el Área de la Bahía reciban una educación excelente que los preparará para tener éxito en la vida. Publicamos información e investigaciones fáciles de comprender acerca de la calidad escolar, que realza tanto los problemas como las soluciones y aumentamos la capacidad de los padres de familia, líderes comunitarios y docentes para innovar y actuar juntos a fin de crear nuevas escuelas públicas de primera categoría. Infórmese más en


Sierra Jenkins


Turnaround Spotlight: UP Education Network

In 2011, UP Education Network (UP), previously Unlocking Potential, opened its first turnaround school in Boston, and the first of its kind in the state of Massachusetts. A nonprofit turnaround organization, UP believes that the practices of the highest performing charter schools can be used to transform chronically underperforming schools in the district. UP currently operates five schools in Boston and Laurence and plans to continue its expansion.

So far, UP’s positive impact on student achievement can be seen in the first couple years of operation at a number of schools, including UP’s first school, restarted as UP Academy Boston in 2011. During each of the first two years, UP Academy Boston students demonstrated the highest median student growth in Massachusetts on math based on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). UP Academy Boston and UP Academy Leonard have shown considerable student achievement growth as well, demonstrating the first and second highest median student growth in the state on the math MCAS in 2013.

When UP restarts a school, the students and facility remain the same, but other aspects of the school change. Unlike district schools, UP schools have more freedom in hiring, programming curriculum, determining time use, budgeting, and evaluating teachers. Scott Given, the CEO of UP, believes these freedoms allow school-level staff to make decisions in the best interest of their students.

Flexibility in UP’s human resources strategy is an important element of their schools. UP has complete control over hiring and the staffing structure. One of the first things they do is put a new leadership team in place at the school, and UP generally changes most of the other school staff as well. UP also has freedom from collective bargaining agreements through a contract that allows for school-developed teacher evaluation processes and tools.

UP develops its own school curricula and code of conduct, which differs from that of the district. With autonomy over special education and ELL programming, UP also delivers education to special populations in a different and unique way.

UP’s contract also allows for control over how time is allocated throughout the year. This is reflected in a longer teacher school year, longer days, and additional time for staff development and collaboration. UP schools have the ability to design school-specific calendars and develop their own unique schedules.

Budget flexibility is another area in which UP schools differ from district schools. In some cases, UP schools receive money directly, in lieu of certain services from the school district. Entitlement funds also flow directly to the schools from the state instead of through the school district. With more flexibility on how to spend their money, UP schools can do things traditional district schools cannot.

UP says they have been able to successfully leverage these autonomies to drive achievement thanks to effective district collaboration: “Autonomy on paper is different than autonomy in practice. Getting from what is on paper to what happens in practice requires immense collaboration between the district’s central office and the school operator.”—Scott Given

Learn more about successful turnarounds in Innovate Public Schools’ report, “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions.”

Resources and references



Turnaround Spotlight: Sanger Unified School District

In 2004, Sanger Unified School District (Sanger) was designated one of the lowest-performing districts in California. Serving a rural, predominantly Latino community 15 miles outside Fresno, Sanger has steadily improved, outperforming average state gains every year since 2005. In 2011, Sanger was recognized as one of the most improved high-poverty districts for low-income students by Education Trust-West and Superintendent Marcus Johnson was named Superintendent of the Year by American Association of School Administrator (AASA). In 2012, the district posted a 94 percent graduation rate for Latinos and a 97 percent graduation rate district-wide.

Sanger credits this successful turnaround to focusing on supporting teachers to improve instruction, creating a culture of collaboration, and using clear accountability measures to improve performance.

In practice, this means the district sets “essential” standards for all grade levels. Using a set of principles about learning instead of a pre-specified curriculum, teachers focus on diagnosing and responding to student learning needs. Student data gathered from periodic assessments helps determine instruction and lesson planning, so the curriculum can be adjusted as needed. Sanger uses a system of interventions for all students during classes and has additional time specifically allocated for instructional interventions each day.

Key to Sanger’s success is team collaboration, which schools facilitate through weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings. The PLC meetings are a designated time for teachers to plan as a team, collaborate, and support each other. In addition, the district developed a data system for teachers to enter and access assessment data, facilitating evidence-based collaborations.

Accountability is woven throughout the district culture. The district aggregates data from continuous assessments and feedback to inform its decisions. District leaders are clear on what is required and expected of each school, but allow flexibility over how schools accomplish their requirements. In addition, the district created clearer guidelines for assessing progress. In this manner, Sanger has coupled high pressure with increased support.

This accountability culture is also apparent in the increased use of student data to inform teaching practices and the use of monthly principal walk-throughs to provide feedback and continuous support to teachers. Principals are not the only ones who walk through the classrooms. Superintendent Johnson visits every classroom in his district twice a year. Johnson describes the regular classroom visits as a way to show teachers that “I am here to support you,” reinforcing the idea that the focus is on feedback and support as opposed to evaluation. Johnson also disseminates yearly themes, such as “Together we can,” reflecting the collaborative foundation of his turnaround strategy.

Learn more about successful turnarounds in Innovate Public Schools’ report, “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions.”

Resources and references


Turnaround Spotlight: Renaissance Schools in Philadelphia

The School District of Philadelphia launched the Renaissance Initiative in 2010 to identify and transform chronically low-performing district schools to dramatically improve student achievement. The district initiates this transformation by converting low-performing schools to either district-run turnaround schools, called Promise Academies, or charter-operated schools, called Renaissance Charters. For both models of transformation, the initiative provides additional resources, changes in staffing, and initiates a change in school culture.

The Renaissance Initiative has had variable success improving student test scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), a standards-based test used to measure student attainment. At the time of a December 2013 evaluation, conducted by the School District of Philadelphia, the Renaissance Charters had demonstrated greater success than the Promise Academies, with more than half of Renaissance Charter schools meeting the criteria set by the district for “rapid growth” and the majority of Promise Academies not meeting the criteria.

Of the first three cohorts of the Renaissance Initiative, fifteen of the seventeen Renaissance Charter Schools improved the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the reading PSSA and thirteen of the schools increased the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the math PSSA.

For the six Promise Academy schools initiated in the first three years, only three increased the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the reading PSSA while only one increased the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the math PSSA.

Under the Promise Academy model, new principals are assigned to the turnaround schools and at least half the staff is replaced, with previous staff moving to other schools. Students receive a longer school day three days per week and a summer academy that extends their school year. Students and staff wear uniforms, new world language studies classes are offered, and partnerships are developed through collaborations with local institutions of higher education, community organizations, and compact agreements with parents.

Unlike the Promise Academies, which are all operated by one entity, the Renaissance Charter schools have multiple operators. But unique to all the Renaissance Charter schools, all staff are replaced, and new policies and cultural norms are established by the schools.

Learn more about successful turnarounds in Innovate Public Schools’ report, “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions.”

Resources and references

Turnaround Spotlight: Philadelphia Mastery Charter Schools

Mastery Charter Schools (MCS) is a charter management organization operating 17 schools with over 10,000 students. Currently operating exclusively in Philadelphia, all but one of MCS’s schools are turnaround schools. MCS keeps the same buildings and students while changing the school management, including systems and some staff, to turn around previously low-performing district schools. At MCS, 87 percent of students are low-income and 96 percent of students are minority.

All of MCS’s schools set the goal to close the performance gap with the state within four years. While all MCS turnaround schools were low-achieving at the time MCS took over managing them, by 2013 they outperformed district averages. In addition to the improved test scores, MCS schools reported 80 percent fewer disciplinary and behavioral incidents compared to pre-turnaround and a decrease in student turnover of 50 percent.

With the motto, “Excellence. No Excuses.”, MCS has a culture of high expectations. All adults and students are held to high standards, creating a college-focused culture by setting and enforcing expectations. MCS makes sure all staff have a consistent mindset regarding school culture, student support, and discipline.

MCS focuses on developing teachers, investing heavily in centralized instructional and teaching standards. Instructional coaches are assigned to each school and work with experienced teachers to conduct observations and provide coaching on a continuous basis. New teachers train for three weeks in the summer and all staff participate in two weeks of planning and training before the school year begins. Additional collaborative planning periods are conducted weekly throughout the year.

Career pathways are linked with staff development and incentives to retain and grow teacher talent. MCS has created a four-level career advancement system through which teachers can progress. Each level is unrelated to seniority or academic degrees, linking instead to a performance-based compensation system. Teachers are rewarded both for their students’ and the overall school’s achievement which determine promotion and pay.

MCS’s redesigned compensation system appears promising, with retention rates for high-performing teachers at 93 percent. The reward system has also been able to successfully exit underperforming teachers whether because MCS did not renew their employment or because the teacher chose to leave after not receiving performance pay.

Acknowledging that students enter school at different levels, middle and high schools offer various course options to meet students where they are at in different subjects. Remedial coursework and interventions are used to make sure that all students are participating in pre-college classes by 11th grade. With high academic expectations, students are not able to skate by if they underperform. Students with grades below 76 percent must repeat a course, only passing once they demonstrate mastery over the content.

Learn more about successful turnarounds in Innovate Public Schools’ report, “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions.”

Resources and references