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

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