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NEPC Review: Leveraging ESSA to Support Quality-School Growth (Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Cities, March 2017)

A report offers a how-to guide for reform advocates interested in removing communities’ democratic control over their schools. The report explains how these reformers can influence states to use the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title I school improvement funds to support a specific set of reforms: charter schools, state-initiated turnarounds, and appointment of an individual with plenipotentiary authority over districts or schools. While the report acknowledges that the research evidence on the effectiveness of these reforms as school improvement strategies is limited, it uses a few exceptional cases to explain how advocates seeking to influence the development of state ESSA plans can advance them anyway. As this review explains, support for the effectiveness of these approaches is simply too limited to present them as promising school improvement strategies. The report omits research that evaluates the models relative to other school reform initiatives, and it fails to take into account the opportunity costs of pursuing one set of policies over another. It also relies on test-score outcomes as the sole measure of success, thus ignoring other impacts these strategies may have on students and their local communities or the local school systems where they occur. For these reasons, policymakers, educators and state education administrators should be wary of relying on this report to guide them as they develop their state improvement plans and consider potential strategies for assisting low-performing schools and districts.

Document Reviewed:

Leveraging ESSA to Support Quality-School Growth

Nelson Smith and Brandon Wright
Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Cities