Improving Unaccredited Schools in Missouri

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1 Improving Unaccredited Schools in Missouri A Position Paper by the Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis Executive Summary St. Louis area superintendents urge the state to move beyond providing choice options to considering broader efforts based on an intervention model of support for struggling schools and districts. This position paper includes a set of research- and evidence- based ideas and recommendations for moving forward and improving education in the state of Missouri. Key Idea 1: School districts underperforming in Missouri are districts with dense poverty. Recommendation: The School Funding Formula should be fully funded and any revision in the formula should include additional funding for school districts with high levels of poverty. St. Louis area superintendents are dedicated to working with legislative leaders on a proposal that makes sense for the state and will ensure long- term financial support of Missouri public schools. Key Idea 2: Choice does not improve learning for all. Recommendation: Transferring students from one location to another does not improve schools nor does it revitalize communities. Bold action, empowered leaders, strengthened communities and solid support of public education will make outcomes better for all. Key Idea 3: Individual schools rather than school districts should be designated as unaccredited. Recommendation: Develop a process that focuses on identifying unaccredited schools rather than unaccredited districts. Key Idea 4: Transportation needs to be addressed. Recommendation: Clarify the criteria for selection of school districts to which transportation will be provided for students in unaccredited schools. Criteria might include travel distance, safety of routes, academic performance, cost of tuition, etc., with preference given to contiguous accredited school districts. Key Idea 5: When a school is identified as under- performing, business as usual must change. Recommendation: The changes selected must be implemented with fidelity and program designs must be research- or evidence- based. DESE or their designee and the school district would agree to a set of common instructional goals as well as student achievement outcomes for regaining accreditation for individual schools. Key Idea 6: Accredited schools could provide support to unaccredited schools. Recommendation: Supports could include administrators from accredited schools partnering with administrators from unaccredited districts, providing high quality teachers for at least one year as coaches in a struggling school, high school students from accredited schools partnering with students in unaccredited districts, and launching an Adopt- A- School or Sister School program that promotes partnerships between schools. Key Idea 7: Resources should be provided for Unaccredited or Provisional School Districts. Recommendation: Resources should include such programs as full day kindergarten at no cost to families, fully funded preschool for children ages 3-5 who qualify for free or reduced lunch, extended summer school programs for remediation and enrichment, as well as home school visits and community programs that support learning. Key Idea 8: Modify the School Accreditation Process. Recommendation: A variety of targeted changes should be made, including developing a method to recognize progress made by underperforming schools (provisional or unaccredited), examining the relevance of the data used to assess success, funding research to identify successful school models throughout the world, changing the focus to unaccredited schools rather than unaccredited districts, etc. Key Idea 9: School finances need to be addressed. Recommendation: Many suggestions are included in this document related to school finances, including passing legislation that provides new sources of revenue for public school districts, fully funding the foundation formula, modifying the bonding capacity of school districts, and addressing regional tuition rates if student transfers are made between school districts. Key Idea 10: Local control is essential. Recommendation: Local school districts should have the authority to make the final decisions about the number of students they can enroll from outside their boundaries. This is the only way they can maintain locally determined class sizes.

2 Unaccredited Schools Situation in Missouri A Position Paper by the Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis Introduction What can be done to improve provisionally accredited and unaccredited schools in Missouri? State law permits students in unaccredited school districts to leave their districts and transfer to accredited school districts. This option, however, can be financially devastating to the unaccredited districts and it harms the children left behind. St. Louis area superintendents urge the state to move beyond providing choice options to considering broader efforts based on an intervention model of support for struggling school systems. In addition it is recommended that consideration be made to identifying unaccredited schools rather than unaccredited districts. This would include the development of a method to recognize progress made by underperforming schools and school districts. Toward that end, the state should take actions that improve school districts, improve individual schools, and build communities, such as encouraging economic development, supporting new instructional programs, providing assistance for unaccredited schools, directing new sources of revenue to schools and refining the accreditation process. Impact of Poverty and Need for Economic Development According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by elements outside of school, such as family income. Teachers are the most important factor within schools, but their impact pales in comparison with that of student backgrounds, families and other issues beyond their control. Nations with high performing school systems whether Korea, Singapore, Finland, or Japan have succeeded not by privatizing their schools or closing those with low scores, but by strengthening the education profession. They also have less poverty than we do. Fewer than 5 percent of children in Finland live in poverty, as compared to 20 percent in the United States. Those who insist that poverty doesn t matter, that only teachers matter, prefer to ignore such contrasts. (Diane Ravitch, Nov. 11, 2010, The New York Review of Books) Based on this information it should be no surprise that the school districts underperforming in Missouri are districts with dense poverty. It is important that the School Funding Formula be fully funded and that any revision in the formula includes additional funding for school districts with high levels of poverty. Missouri education leaders recognize the importance of economic development in enhancing funding for public education and addressing issues of poverty. We are dedicated to working with legislative leaders on a proposal that makes sense for the state and will ensure long-term financial support of Missouri public schools. 2

3 Learning from History Choice Does Not Improve Learning for All The St. Louis area has participated in the Voluntary Transfer Program for over thirty years. Today over 5,000 students participate in the VICC program attending fourteen different school districts in St. Louis County. At its peak approximately 13,000 students attended thirteen different districts. This is by far, the largest public school choice program in the United States. Over 60,000 students, most successfully, have participated in this choice program for over thirty years. However during this time St. Louis Public Schools have been unaccredited and are now only provisionally accredited. Certainly, SLPS has recently shown some very positive signs of improvement. Most attribute this improvement to Dr. Kelvin Adams, the Special Administrative Board and the staff of SLPS. In fact, many think the VICC program actually prevented SLPS from improving. The tenor of school choice is that it creates competition in the public school marketplace that will cause the struggling school district to get better. In the private sector, choice does create competition in the marketplace. It works there. But is does not work in public schools, at least not in Missouri. The St. Louis County school districts have supported the VICC program. However, this program did not improve the SLPS. We should learn from our past. School choice may have worked for the students who left but it did not rebuild the SLPS or their communities. Transportation The current law indicates that unaccredited school districts must provide transportation to one designated district in an adjoining county. This can cause children to spend a large amount of their young life on the bus. This can result in young children (including school and time on the bus) with school days that can be well over eight hours in length. First, criteria for selection of the school district to which transportation will be provided should be clarified. The public deserves and expects to understand how these districts are chosen. Criteria might include distance traveled, safe routes, transportation time, academic performance, cost of tuition, etc. Sending children to accredited school districts close to their home addresses issues such as: Ability for the family to be fully involved in their child s education; Ability for students to be fully involved in extra-curricular activities; Reduced transportation time; Ability to meet with new friends on a regular basis both during the week and when school is not in session. A Review of Open Enrollment States: Policies and Practices In December 2009, A Review of Open Enrollment States: Policies and Practices was prepared for the Missouri General Assembly by the Joint Committee on Education. Portions of this report are applicable to the student transfer situation and to efforts to expand options of choice. The states included in this 3

4 report are those where interdistrict open enrollment is mandatory statewide. Please see excerpts from this paper below. Most open enrollment laws address special education, transportation, capacity and funding. In the majority of open enrollment states, parents are responsible for transportation or at minimum, transportation to a point within the boundaries of the receiving district. Most open enrollment laws specify capacity thresholds over which districts will not accept nonresident students. Various issues around special education are addressed, with the most common being the ability of the receiving district to meet requirements of a student s individualized education plan (IEP). In most cases the per pupil expenditure is paid to the receiving district by the sending district. Twelve of 14 open enrollment states assign a higher percentage of state revenue to fund K-12 education than Missouri. Local revenue supports 58% of Missouri s K-12 education funding, which is a higher percentage than 13 of 14 of the states with mandatory open enrollment. The empirical research on open enrollment is very limited. Variations in open enrollment laws make comparative research challenging. All of the open enrollment statutes allow for the choice of district, but none specifically allows the choice of the school within the district. For most of the states that address funding in their open enrollment laws, the per pupil funding is paid to the receiving district by the sending district. State revenue represents the largest share of total K-12 funding in 8 of the 14 open enrollment states. While Missouri s state average K-12 funding is proportioned at 58.1% local, 33.4% state and 8.5% federal, there are variations across Missouri districts. Variation in the proportion of local revenue in districts across Missouri ranges from a low of 28.3% to a high of 95.3%. (2009) Teaching and Learning Expectations for Unaccredited/Provisional Schools When a school is identified as underperforming, business as usual in that school must change. The changes selected must be implemented with fidelity and program designs must be research or evidencebased. A study team composed of representatives from the school community should work together to study instructional programs, share options with their community and facilitate the selection of the new design model for their school. This design should be a research- or evidence-based model. DESE or their designee and the school district with unaccredited school(s) would agree to a set of common instructional goals as well as student achievement outcomes for regaining accreditation for individual schools. DESE or their designee and the school district would oversee the process of selecting an approved model for the school, implementation of the model and assessment of the model s success. It is important to note that the model selected could look different for each school, because each school community has different needs, wants and dreams for the future. Empowering the school community 4

5 through input in the selection of the model encourages rebuilding of the school neighborhood, shares ownership of the model and fosters its success. Any model selected should include: A well-articulated school improvement plan with clear goals that are assessed no less than four times a year. A well-articulated curriculum that is tightly aligned to State standards, instructional materials that are well-aligned to the curriculum to support its implementation, and professional development and follow-up support to those teachers who will be implementing the curriculum. A clear accountability plan directly tied to the school improvement plan. Frequent formative assessments that assist with progress monitoring of students and determine effectiveness of interventions. The assessments should provide information to schools within one week. These could include the intermittent assessments that will be part of the upcoming State Assessment Program. Frequent implementation checks from outside experts or trained, certified professionals in the district to identify strengths, actions staff must take to improve the quality of implementation and professional development needed. Professional development plans that are closely linked to improving the instructional skills teachers need to increase student learning. A program focused on improved student attendance until 90% of the students have a 90% attendance rate for at least two years in succession. Training and actions to create a welcoming environment for parents and students. Training for board of education members. Development of community collaboration and partnerships. This could include business partnerships, community centers, anti-crime programs, community education, etc. A well-articulated communication plan that engages the community and helps locate community resources to support student success. School activities to help parents become involved, supporting, active participants in the education of their children and the operation of schools. Actions to enable children to remain in the same school even if they move within the district. This should help reduce problems associated with student mobility. Resources for Unaccredited or Provisional School Districts: Provide incentives for certified educators working in high poverty districts. Require full day kindergarten at no cost to families. Provide fully funded preschool for children ages 3-5 who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Provide extended summer school programs for remediation and enrichment. Provide resources to support the home visit program. Encourage community programs that support literacy. 5

6 Provide an on-site office for government resources and other agencies such as the Division of Family Services, Nurses for Newborns, health services, and financial assistance for needy families etc. There may be Federal funds available to support this effort. Additional funding for research or evidence-based professional development. Bring health care providers into schools to directly serve students and their families, including nutrition and pre-natal counseling. Link with social service agencies (e.g. food pantries, housing support, parenting classes) to provide assistance in the school to children and families. Flexibility in transportation (e.g. back-up routes for children who miss the bus) to help ensure school attendance. For secondary students flexible school schedules to accommodate students who work or who have children (e.g. night school/late school, late start, Saturday classes). Support that could be provided by Accredited Schools at the Request of the Unaccredited School Unaccredited schools could request supports such as those listed below from accredited school districts at no charge to the district. This relationship would be one of partnering with other school districts that have available identified resources that could truly support and enhance both districts. Establish partnerships between administrators from accredited and unaccredited schools or districts as needed. Administrators from unaccredited schools will identify resources needed and ten may access resources in areas such as professional development, instructional design and curriculum writing from accredited school districts if available and qualified. Accredited schools may provide high quality teachers for at least one year as partners or coaches in a struggling school. The state would reimburse the accredited school for the cost of replacing the teacher. This could be designed in a method similar to the highly successful STAR Teacher Program. High school students from accredited schools can act as partners with students in unaccredited districts. Adopt-A-School or Sister School programs with accredited and unaccredited schools can partner for the sharing of effective programs, activities, etc. Service Learning Projects involving accredited schools providing supports for families in need of clothing, food, finances, services, etc. Governance of Charter Schools If a Charter School model is selected by a school district it is essential that they have the same accreditation process and accountability requirements of all public schools. These schools would preferably be under the charter of the local public school or a local university or college. It is essential 6

7 that these schools be held to the same expectations as the public school system because they are receiving state funding and because our children deserve this level of quality. School Accreditation Process 1. Consider unaccredited schools rather than unaccredited districts. 2. Develop a method to recognize progress made by underperforming schools (provisional or unaccredited). This might include a new category such as provisional and progressing or unaccredited and progressing. 3. Examine the relevance of the data used to assess success. 4. Fund research to identify successful school models throughout the world. 5. Provide consistent leadership by establishing a three-person, state-appointed board for provisional districts if leadership is a concern. 6. Place students in successful schools within the unaccredited district before allowing any transfers. 7. The data for the underperforming school starts new with year one of being either provisional or unaccredited. 8. Empower DESE to intervene earlier in the accreditation process. This could happen when districts are provisionally accredited. The goal should be to take action to prevent a district from being unaccredited not to react after they have already become unaccredited. 9. The transfer process would discontinue if a districts achieves the number of points needed to be provisional. 10. Establish a clear guideline that indicates the number of years of growth needed for the status of a district to be changed from either unaccredited to provisional. 11. Work with superintendents to determine a pyramid of interventions and supports needed for each level of accreditation. Finance Improve funding for all schools. Legislation that provides new sources of revenue for public school districts should be supported. It is important that the School Funding Formula be fully funded and that any revision in the formula includes additional funding for school districts with high levels of poverty. The constitutional limit for a school district s bonding capacity should be increased and a simple majority allowed for bond issue passage. If there is no limit to the number of students a district is expected to absorb from an unaccredited school district, this will be essential. Funding for intensive professional development that provides a comprehensive and sustainable approach to improving effectiveness in raising student achievement should be instituted. State aid should not be redirected from public schools to unregulated private schools through voucher/tuition tax credit programs. 7

8 The Foundation Formula and categoricals must be fully funded. Missouri legislators made a commitment to Missouri schools with the passage of SB287 in The seven-year phase-in never happened and the formula remains underfunded by about $600 million in As the economy rebounds, so should funding for public education. If transfers are made between school districts then a regional tuition rate should be determined. This rate should be adjusted at least every four years. Using the same regions that are used to determine the regional prevailing wage should be considered. Local Control All local school districts should have the authority to make the final decisions about matters including open enrollment; employee compensation and working conditions; class sizes; curriculum and instructional materials; professional development; program and employee evaluations and school calendar. It is essential that local school districts are empowered to determine the number of students they can enroll from outside their boundaries. This is the only way they can maintain locally determined class sizes. Summary Public schools accept all students, no matter their race, ability, economic status or language. These schools are the cornerstone of American democracy. As such, public schools deserve our support. Our future depends on them and our children should have nothing less. Transferring students from one location to another does not improve schools nor does it revitalize communities. Bold action, empowered leaders, strengthened communities and solid support of public education will make our system better for all. 8

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