Turnaround Spotlight: Partnership for LA Schools

In 2009, the office of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and local foundations came together to create the nonprofit Partnership for LA Schools (the Partnership). The Partnership is one of the largest urban school turnaround organizations in the nation, with 17 schools and over 15,000 students. The nonprofit runs the schools as traditional LAUSD schools with unionized staff, with the added ability to leverage partners for needed resources to carry out key changes, such as social services or building maintenance.

The Partnership is the most improved school system in California and has been outpacing all other mid-large school districts on the California Academic Performance Index over the past five years. Though many students enter Partnership schools at below-proficient levels in multiple content areas, the network has moved students to proficiency faster than both LAUSD and the state in all four content areas over the past couple of years.

Part of the Partnership’s strategy includes developing, attracting, and retaining great leaders. By cultivating leaders at all levels, including the classroom, using differentiated compensation for principals, and providing customized training for school leaders, the Partnership is able to place excellent leaders in network schools. School leaders are supported, and also held accountable, with multiple-measure evaluations. Over 50 percent of school leaders have been replaced since 2012 as the Partnership refines their turnaround model to ensure excellent leadership in each school.

The Partnership’s human capital strategy also extends to teachers. As part of the turnaround, the Partnership focuses on changing school recruitment and hiring practices. Highly competent teachers are identified and trained to lead instructional initiatives and all teachers work on developing college-ready programming through the implementation of the Common Core. Multiple-measure evaluations are used to identify areas for support and to hold teachers accountable as well.

The Partnership leverages data and technology to identify and individualize student support. Teachers use a data and assessment platform that provides results in real time, allowing teachers to customize learning to student needs. Lessons blended with technology, commonly called “blended learning,” allow for differentiated instruction for students. Schools provide expanded learning opportunities for intervention and enrichment, including additional extracurricular and summer opportunities.

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

Resources and references


Turnaround Spotlight: Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Miami-Dade) is the third largest school district in the country and has made major strides to improve student achievement, winning the Broad Prize in 2012, an award given to large urban school districts that demonstrate the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement in the country. In 2011, Miami-Dade outperformed districts with demographically similar students in reading, math, and science at all school levels.

Miami-Dade’s turnaround effort is governed by a separate entity that provides oversight and intensive supports. Initially started as the Innovation Zone by then Superintendent Rudy Crew in 2004, the initial effort experienced some success with its 39 schools, but was not financially sustainable. A couple of years after the initial program ended, and in response to a threat by the state of Florida to take over nine underperforming high schools, a new turnaround office was created by Superintendent Alberto Carvahlo.

This new turnaround initiative is called the Education Transformation Office (ETO) and kicked off in 2010, initially providing support to 19 schools with historically poor performance and reporting directly to the superintendent. By 2011, the ETO added an additional 10 schools and has continued to take on low-performing schools. The ETO memoranda of understanding with the teachers union allows for performance pay, teacher transfers between schools, new approaches to scheduling, and more time for collaborative planning.

Administrators at underperforming schools meet to review information about their school’s performance five times per year with the superintendent and his cabinet. The principals and the executive team review and adjust resource allocation and strategies to address performance improvements.

Student achievement data informs school staffing in several key ways. Student performance makes up 50 percent of principal evaluations. To ensure that highly effective leaders are in the schools where students need them most, the district’s high-performing principals are asked to lead transformation schools while low-performing principals are removed from those sites.

Across the district, teachers deemed ineffective are moved out of transformation schools and teachers whose students have higher levels of achievement than expected are offered incentives to move to transformation schools. Additional Teach For America staff are brought in to increase the pool of teacher talent.

Though hiring and firing as more fluid at transformation schools, teachers also receive additional support. In low-performing elementary schools, central office leaders visit regularly and the schools receive extra instructional coaching and staff support.

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

Resources and references



Turnaround Spotlight: Lawrence Public Schools

In May 2012, the Lawrence Public Schools (LPS) Turnaround Plan was released in response to the district being placed into state receivership by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. LPS describes their turnaround model as “open architecture” because the district provides the foundation and limits while allowing school-level flexibility to design their program to meet unique student needs. Not only have all turnaround efforts taken place within Lawrence Public Schools—outside charter networks, like Unlocking Potential, have also taken on turning around some of the lowest-performing schools in the area.

Under the turnaround plan, LPS has shown promising improvement. Two years into the initiative, student growth in English Language Arts has reached the highest level in district history and math growth is the highest of any urban district in Massachusetts. LPS has increased the number of high-performing schools from two pre-turnaround to six. In addition, graduation rates continue to increase, and dropout rates continue to decline.

The LPS turnaround model creates basic policies and holds schools accountable to rigorous standards while providing the independence to create different types of schools. This is reflected in the increased control school leaders have over curriculum and instruction, professional development, the school schedule, and program design.

Increased autonomy has also been used to extend the school year for students. Vacation academies were created to provide intensive small group instruction to students over February and April. Demand for the extended school year is considerable. Four thousand students volunteered for the vacation academies, with two thousand attending in February and another two thousand in April.

Receiver Jeffrey C. Riley attributes the district’s achievements thus far to ongoing efforts to increase school authority while supporting schools centrally to succeed. Riley has done this with a leaner central office, supporting school autonomy with flexible resources and sending increased supports out to schools. Riley has also leveraged partner organizations to support schools by providing additional school-level services and management.

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

Resources and references

 “Lawrence Public Schools’ Turnaround Plan” and case study results by Massachusetts Department of Education

Turnaround Spotlight: Green Dot Charter Schools

­­­Green Dot Charter Schools (Green Dot) opened its first school in 2000 with a single 9th grade class of 140 students. Now one of the top three largest charter school management organizations in the nation, Green Dot has grown to 21 schools, serving more than 10,000 students.

As one of the few charter management organizations nationwide that have taken on the difficult work of turning around large, very low-performing schools, Green Dot has achieved great success with schools all over some of the most impoverished schools in South Los Angeles. One of their most notable turnaround efforts started in 2007 at Alain Leroy Locke High School (Locke), one of the then lowest-performing schools in the city and state, and known by the community to be a dangerous school with a hostile learning environment. Locke used a simple approach of what they believe makes for a high-performing school (see the table to for the six elements) and over time saw lasting positive academic growth for all student attending Locke High School.

Green Dot Public Schools’ Six Basic Tenets

1. Small, safe, personalized schools

2. High expectations for all students

3. Local control with extensive professional development and accountability

4. Parent participation

5. Maximize funding to the classroom

6. Keep schools open later

Green Dot has demonstrated success, with graduation rates nearly twice that of neighboring public schools. The percentage of Green Dot students who graduate college-ready by California A-G requirements, is nearly four times that of neighboring schools and over twice the average for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The emphasis on college preparation is reflected in the high college acceptance rate, with 91 percent of graduating seniors getting accepted to college.

Green Dot teachers are unionized with a contract that gives broader autonomy to schools and provides more flexible union work rules than a typical union contract. Class size is one particular area of difference. The LAUSD union contract determines class size, and therefore hiring, down to the exact number of students. In contrast, Green Dot’s union contract requires a dialogue between the teacher and principal if the teacher’s class size exceeds 33 students.

Teachers at Green Dot do not have tenure, but they do have greater flexibility to create curriculum and greater control over the school budget. Students participate as well, with the school newspaper informing students of budget decisions and school advisory councils to communicate student opinions.

Green Dot has continued to expand beyond California and, by 2015, will have additional schools in Tennessee and Washington. To support this growing need for talented teachers and leaders, Green Dot provides different career ladder opportunities to staff. Teachers who demonstrate leadership can develop analytical skills as Data Fellows, receive training through the Teacher Leader Academy, or facilitate professional development as Teacher Leader Facilitators. Additional opportunities are also available for Green Dot staff through a year-long Administrator-in-Residence program.

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

Resources and references


Where it’s worked: School Turnaround Spotlights

In November 2014, Innovate Public Schools published “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions: Silicon Valley’s Lowest-Performing Schools and What Can Be Done for Students Who Attend Them.” The report 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.

Read the report at www.innovateschools.org/turnaround.

Below you can find deeper profiles on turnaround efforts from across the country and links to resources:

Spotlight on School Turnaround

What would it take for the lowest-performing schools in Silicon Valley to become great?

That was the central question of “It Can Be Done: A Convening on School Turnaround,” which Innovate Public Schools held on May 1, 2014, featuring speakers Russlynn Ali of Emerson Collective, Scott Given of UP Education and several local panelists.

For far too long, too many students across the country have been stuck in chronically low-performing schools that are not preparing them for college and 21st century careers. Over the past decade, an increased focus on this issue and diverse efforts across the country by educators, business leaders and policymakers have advanced what we know about how to effectively turn around the lowest-performing schools. Now is the time to take advantage of what we’ve learned and find solutions for students stuck in struggling schools in the Valley. To that end, Innovate Public Schools is working on a report to be released later this year that will include an analysis identifying the area’s chronically lowest-performing schools and highlighting effective turnaround strategies from across the country.

Highlights from the Convening on School Turnaround

Russlynn Ali

Chair, Emerson Education Fund for the Emerson Collective
Former head of the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights

Scott Given

Scott Given, CEO, UP Education Network

UP Education Network has restarted four of the lowest-performing schools in Massachusetts, all of which which are now posting among the strongest academic growth of any schools in the state.

Transformation to Excellence Powerpoint Presentation


More Resources

Early study shows SIG is working in California

One of the biggest efforts in school turnaround to date is the federally initiated School Improvement Grants (SIG). In 2009, the federal government provided an unprecedented $97.4 billion in funds for education, of which $3 billion were allocated specifically to expand the SIG program. This expansion enabled a low-performing school to receive as much as an additional $2 million in funding annually for three years.

In California, participating schools received around $1.5 million dollars to support the implementation of one of four intervention models promoted by SIG: school turnaround, restart, transformation and closure. Read more on the four models.

The first cohort included 89 schools. The results are especially striking for those that implemented the transformation and turnaround models. These schools increased their API by roughly 34 points more than expected. Schools that implemented the turnaround model (only 29 in California) improved the most—highlighting the importance of significant changes in human capital management and school culture in improving student outcomes. This article summarizes the key findings of “School turnarounds: Evidence from the 2009 stimulus.”

SIG Schools in Silicon Valley

Only four of the 180 SIG-eligible schools in this region applied to the program during the first cohort—all four received the annual $1,500 per student in SIG funding offered to do this work.

School District SIG Model Total 3-Year Grant
Pescadero Elementary and Middle La-Honda Pescadero Unified Transformation $1,985,398
Costano Elementary Ravenswood City Elementary Turnaround $4,074,186
Ronald McNair Academy Ravenswood City Elementary Turnaround $4,074,186
Stanford New School Charter Transformation $3,354,119

Systemic Approaches to School Turnaround in California

While SIG and other school turnaround efforts are mostly focused at the school site level, systemic approaches by districts and charter school networks are also key. The California Collaborative for District Reform prepared a brief that highlights the trends from eight districts in California that are overseeing turnarounds in multiple schools.

These were some of the keys to success identified in the report:

  • Establishing a system-wide, district culture that supports school turnaround
  • Developing and deploying strong leadership
  • Fostering and deploying strong teaching
  • Using data to identify effective and ineffective practices

“While school leadership contributes to the learning environment in all schools, leadership has particular implications in the context of persistent low performance, where challenges like unable staff, low expectations for students, and the need for a dramatic change in culture might require a specific set of leadership skills.”

– CA Collaborative

The Three C’s of School Turnaround work: Conditions, Capacity, and Clustering

MassInsight, a non-profit with significant expertise and experience in school turnaround, analyzed early turnaround results and identified these bold strategies that several leading states, districts, and charter networks are adopting to turn around the lowest-performing schools:

Conditions: Education leaders in this work recognize that turnaround schools need the right conditions—a strong leader, autonomy over instructional practice, staffing and budget, and clear and high expectations for performance, among others—to significantly change a school’s culture and performance.

Capacity: Investments need to be made to ensure turnaround schools have a strong leader, partners, and highly competent teaching staff.

Clustering: Leading districts have established partnership zones to vertically cluster around a high school and its feeders to ensure students who attend dramatically improved schools at one schooling level have access to quality schools for their entire K-12 education.

For more information, contact Jeimee Estrada, Director of Research and Policy for Innovate Public Schools, at jestrada@innovateschools.org.

Turnaround Spotlight: Chicago Public Schools

Of all the districts nationwide, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has some of the longest and most extensive experience in turnaround, having implemented five different turnaround models at over 40 schools since 1997. These initiatives align with the federal government’s school improvement models, though CPS refers to them with different names. In chronological order, the CPS models are called the Reconstitution model, School Closure and Restart model, School Turnaround Specialist Program, Academy for Urban School Leadership, and the CPS Office of School Improvement model.

Under these reforms, CPS elementary schools’ test scores improved significantly within four years. The earliest high school turnarounds had variable results under the Reconstitution model, but of the high schools that were reformed later under other models and had at least one year of available data, six out of seven showed improvements in the on-track to graduate rates.

All the turnaround initiatives included a change in school leadership. Since 2008, Turnaround schools have been evaluated on a school-by-school basis to determine whether or not to replace the pre-turnaround principal. Under the Reconstitution, Academy of Urban School Leadership and the CPS Office of School Improvement models, the district changed both leadership and staff, keeping the same students, but starting the school year with at least 50 percent new staff. In addition, these three models adopted a new organizational structure and a new or revised instructional program.

Under School Closure and Restart, the schools were closed for a year during which the students were moved into other schools. New schools opened in the same buildings and could be operated by charter management organizations, contract organizations, or as performance schools (in-district schools with CPS staff that have more flexibility than traditional CPS schools) , all of which had more autonomy over curriculum and budget. New student enrollment was through a lottery and required a student application. In most cases, schools enrolled one grade per year, increasing the number of students each year until all grade levels were enrolled.

The two most recent models, Academy for Urban School Leadership and the CPS Office of School Improvement model, were designed to give the turnaround operator additional flexibility from district constraints while holding the school operator accountable to strict standards of success. For example, schools can hire their own special education staff and are not required to use CPS district staff. Each staff member has specific goals and metrics to which they’re held accountable. To support this data-driven culture, the Office of School Improvement is developing data dashboards for every position to support staff as they monitor their performance metrics.

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

Resources and references