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Low-Performing Schools and School Improvement

School turnaround is a topic of national, state, and local education reform conversations. In the Midwest, states and districts are seeking to identify persistently struggling schools and get them on track. Education researchers are studying the change process in these struggling schools to help practitioners and policymakers learn more about what interventions yield improved outcomes and how to sustain improvement over time.
State-level efforts to support and improve low-performing schools have historically involved directing federal funding and monitoring compliance. Spurred, in part, by the pursuit of Race to the Top, School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility request process, Midwest region states are reframing state-level school and district improvement and are prioritizing the need to identify and turn around the lowest performing schools.
One requirement of the ESEA Flexibility application is for states to explain how they will “[e]ffect dramatic, systemic change in the lowest-performing schools by publicly identifying ‘priority schools’ and ensuring that each LEA [local education agency] with one or more of these schools implements, for three years, meaningful interventions aligned with the turnaround principles in each of these schools. The SEA [state education agency] must also develop criteria to determine when a school that is making significant progress in improving student achievement exits priority status” (U.S. Department of Education, 2012, p. 5). The requirement that interventions be aligned with “turnaround principles” is further specified to ensure that school improvement efforts include certain strategies, such as evaluating educator performance, redesigning the school day, strengthening instructional programs, and promoting school safety and student health. 

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