Pathways for State-to-District Assistance in Underperforming School Districts

Levers for Change: Pathways for State-to-District Assistance in Underperforming School Districts

Center for American Progress

In order to achieve better results in improving underperforming school districts, states must do better at heeding lessons from 30 years of efforts that have fallen short, according to this report.

The experience of “state-to-district assistance,” says author William J. Slotnick, “is characterized by tactics in the absence of strategy, and activities in the absence of accomplishment.” Doing better will require “new approaches and new sets of players.”

Among the lessons from various reform efforts, including the No Child Left Behind Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: States often don’t pay enough attention to the reason for a school district’s deficiencies; reform movements often create lots of activity but little actual accomplishment; states are better at quickly fixing short-term troubles than “in building the foundation for educational improvements”; the entire state educational system “will be judged by its weakest link”; and states rarely focus on building “community capacity – and suffer for it.”

The report lays out numerous recommendations based on three core challenges: meeting the educational requirements of balancing state responsibilities with federal status and “traditions of local control”; building organizational capacities to create “an effective service-delivery system”; and balancing “political pressure with educational wisdom.” The recommendations cover such areas as selecting districts for intervention, developing exit strategies, assessing the capacity of the state to oversee the intervention and building constituencies to support the intervention.

Slotnick was founder and executive director of the nonprofit Community Training and Assistance Center, which strives to develop leadership and planning expertise in community-based organizations, schools and government agencies.


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