- Education Resource Strategies (ERS) on Tuesday announced "Districts at Work," a series of eight case studies funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that examines eight school systems' approaches to supporting schools from the central office.
- The first two case studies — examining Fresno Unified School District's efforts to add time to accelerate student and teacher learning, and how New Orleans' First Line Schools is reorganizing time to support teacher growth — were released this week, with two more to follow each week for the remainder of April.
- The remaining case studies include a mix of large traditional districts and charter networks with high low-income, black and Latinx populations, examining their successes on efforts to boost student performance, graduation rates, and support teachers and administrators. They include:
Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (Massachusetts) - Supporting principals to successfully lead a turnaround
KIPP Bay Area (California) - Helping principals manage budget uncertainties
San Diego Unified School District (California) - Creating a path to graduation for all students
Dallas Independent School District (Texas) - Improving equity in school access
Highline Public Schools (Washington) - Using strategic plans in school improvement
Tulsa Public Schools (Oklahoma) - Working on a budget to redesign schools for professional learning
Figuring out what works best for a district's central office can be particularly difficult, as administrators at that level must consider the needs of several schools serving student populations that, from a socioeconomic standpoint, are potentially very different. There are any number of unique factors and challenges that must then be kept in mind for each building.
As schools and districts discover better ways to support efforts for improvement, case studies can be a powerful tool to share those best practices so other districts don't have to reinvent the wheel in their own efforts. This is something the Gates Foundation has recognized in its Networks for School Improvement initiative, and its support for ERS Districts at Work series is in line with the desire to help schools develop and scale successful practices.
The common threads between these case studies are also notable. Finding time — both to enhance and accelerate learning and also to support educators' improvement — is a challenge, given how much is already demanded of school schedules to stay on top of things including accountability, curriculum benchmarks, professional development, grading, extracurricular programming and more. There are simply only so many hours in the day, and figuring out how to add additional time or reconfigure how existing time is used is no small feat for any district.
Beyond that, the challenges of improving access, raising graduation rates, navigating tight budgets, and incorporating strategic planning tactics covered in the remaining six case studies should make the completed package an invaluable resource for any district — regardless of how many of these factors apply specifically to their schools.