Turnaround Spotlight: Boston Public Schools

In May 2010, Boston Public Schools (BPS) finalized their five-year plan, including a turnaround strategy for its 12 schools designated by Massachusetts among the lowest-performing statewide (Level 4) and just one step away from state receivership. The following autumn, BPS initiated its turnaround strategy with the goal that by the end of a three-year period, all 12 schools would exit Level 4 status. Compared to the district, the turnaround schools as a group had a higher percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch (86 percent), a higher percent of Black or Hispanic students (92 percent), and a higher percent of limited English proficient students (40 percent).

In the aggregate, first-year results showed math and reading test results improved, attendance increased, absenteeism decreased, and the number of suspended students went down. Overall during the three-year period, the original cohort of schools improved, but on a school-by-school basis, the progress was variable. By 2014, half of the schools improved, moving their designations up to Level 3, or in the case of one school, Level 2. One school was closed and the other three remained at Level 4, with two worsening to Level 5.

Within two years of the turnaround, BPS appointed new school leaders at all the turnaround schools. BPS chose the principals based on criteria indicating highly effective leadership skills, including a focus on outcomes, use of data to manage performance, experience creating a strong school culture, and the ability to leverage resources to achieve goals.

In addition to new principals, BPS also replaced over 50 percent of teachers at some schools. At seven of the schools, BPS required staff to reapply for their positions. The process of reapplying encouraged only teachers who wanted to be part of the turnaround effort to remain at the schools. District partnerships with the Boston Teacher Residency program and Teach for America helped fill remaining vacancies.

The school days at each of the turnaround schools were extended as part of the turnaround effort, providing one extra hour per day split between classroom instruction and teacher development and planning. Teachers were compensated with a stipend for their extra time.

BPS added additional instructional leaders, data managers, and social and emotional supports to the turnaround schools. Though partnerships, BPS placed full-time data managers at three of the schools and additional district partners provided social and emotional supports at schools.

The turnaround plan also included supports for increased family and community engagement. Each turnaround school had a Family Community Outreach Coordinator and the district worked with school staff and partners to identify and coordinate additional community partners. At the district level, the Office of Family and Student Engagement helped schools develop a communications and engagement plan.

BPS monitored the progress and performance at each turnaround school. Overseen by Chief Accountability officer, Frank Barnes, the measurements tracked student truancy and dropout rates, student achievement, and college readiness and school culture. By assessing the schools’ progress, the district could determine and provide necessary central supports.

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

Resources and references

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