By Rick Miller
In 2013, CORE Districts, a collaboration of 10 California school districts representing over a million students, was awarded the first and only district-level waiver from NCLB accountability rules. CORE’s executive director Rick Miller discusses how the districts are working to improve school quality and student success.
In the process of developing our novel approach to school improvement, we at CORE focused on a few key points:
- We would only apply for an NCLB waiver if it helped us do the work we were already engaged in—work that we believed would raise all students’ achievement.
- We would not apply to avoid accountability but rather to move toward a better, higher level of mutual accountability.
- We would be driven by equity and a focus on eliminating existing disparity and disproportionality in our systems.
In California, we’ve been subject to two accountability systems: the state Academic Performance Index (API) and the federal adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirement. Both are narrow, simplistic views of the health of schools and students. Given the limited information that API and AYP provide, all of CORE’s district school boards had already adopted much more robust “dashboards” of key indicators that they used to track college and career readiness. Thus, the holistic accountability system we developed, called the School Quality Improvement System, is based on many of the measures that participating school districts were already paying attention to in their data dashboards. As a result, we’re focused not only on academic outcomes but also on the culture and climate of our schools and the social-emotional development of our children. As part of our system, schools participating in CORE are completing the largest survey of social-emotional skills ever conducted. By grounding our work in what matters to ensure a student graduates college and career ready, as opposed to focusing on the one-size-fits-all measures that are easily tracked across the state, we’ve developed a higher-level, more accurate view of student preparedness.
We also designed the School Quality Improvement System to build our capacity to support and develop the teachers and leaders already working in our schools. Instead of using our system to sanction schools, we use collaborative capacity-building approaches, like our school-pairings process. This process provides support and technical assistance to schools that need it from partner teachers and school leaders that are achieving success with similar students. The result is an approach to school improvement that is based on the collective responsibility of the entire school community to promote the whole child and prepare all students for college, careers, and citizenship.
We are right in the middle of our learning journey, and we still have much to figure out. But, establishing an accountability system that uses measures that local educators value is a good start. We are also quite optimistic about our early results with our school-pairings process, which we borrowed from high performing systems like Ontario. This notion of focusing on capacity building instead of sanctioning, we believe, has important national significance and merits close observation. All told, we are one of many national innovation areas, and we look forward to sharing our learning over the next few years.
To learn more about the CORE districts and the School Quality Improvement System, visit http://coredistricts.org/.
Rick Miller is the executive director of CORE Districts and the former deputy state superintendent for the California Department of Education.