Six states chosen to become models for school reform

Six states—Alaska, Illinois, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia—have been chosen to become national examples of how state education departments should operate to meet the tough new demands of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Education Leaders Council (ELC), a nonprofit education advocacy group in Washington, D.C., received a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education in June to develop state models that put the act’s principles into practice. The group chose these six states from among 28 applicants to kick off the program because they showed the most enthusiasm, technology readiness, and buy-in from all levels of education, said an ELC spokesperson.

ELC will help train state and local school leaders how to track, analyze, and report student test-score data and other information to improve instruction.

The initiative, called Following the Leaders, aims to show state and school education leaders that meeting the new requirements is possible. “Seeing is believing,” Education Secretary Rod Paige said. “This project will show our whole nation what is possible when the essential elements of reform are put in place.”

Through the initiative, participating states will receive assistance with how to report student data according to the new requirements and how to analyze the data to meet the required adequate yearly progress (AYP). Analyzing data will be essential to helping schools meet their AYP goals, but most teachers and administrators are not skilled at data analysis.

“There’s so much stuff that schools have to do right now—a lot has to do with reporting data,” said Brian Jones, vice president for communications and policy at ELC. “AYP is still the absolute largest thing schools are struggling with.”

Only a portion of the schools in participating states actually will take part in the program. Each state is asked to identify 15 to 90 schools they want to work with. Participating schools already must have the necessary technology infrastructure in place.

Schools will get software, training, and the philosophical guidance needed essentially to break old habits, Jones said. The initiative combines the products and services of several organizations in addition to ELC.

Participating schools will receive free access to web-based software from Project Achieve, a division of Achievement Technologies Inc. This standards-management software focuses on using student assessment data to improve education; it has components that teachers, principals, administrators, and parents can use. AccountabilityWorks, a nonprofit organization with expertise in standards, assessments, and accountability, will provide the policy assistance. The Teacher Advancement Program, which was developed by the Milken Family Foundation, will help states attract, retain, and motivate talented teachers. The entire project will be evaluated by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a private foundation active in educational research and reform.

“It’s a badly needed effort,” said Michael Hickey, professor at Towson State University, who trains Maryland teachers to use data to improve student achievement (see Viewpoint, page 48). “Maryland is on the front edge of assessment and accountability, and [even] we have a great distance to go yet.”

John Bailey, director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education, is a true believer in the use of data to improve education.

New York City reduced crime by using data-driven decision making, Bailey said. Each police precinct was held accountable for crime that occurred in its neighborhood. After a while, police were able to project crime patterns and trends so they could work proactively.

Bailey said educators will have to learn to apply the same techniques in their schools.

See these related links:

Education Leaders Council

Thomas B. Fordham Foundation

U.S. Department of Education

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