Back in the mid 1990s, Chicago made headlines when the city decided to place schools with fewer than 15 percent of students at grade level in reading and math on probation.
The reason for setting the bar at 15 percent? About 100 schools would fall under that line and Chicago felt it had the resources to work with about 100 schools.
When it comes to intervening with low-performing schools, this is about as strategic as most districts get. What can a district do to be more strategic about improvement? Are there other factors to consider?
For example, most districts don’t map their school scores, but if they did, they might find some guides to action. In this map, high-performing schools are green and blue, average schools are yellow, and low-performing schools are orange and red.
The map shows a cluster of low-performing schools in the middle; the district might focus its improvement effort here. But the district might also notice that right in the middle of this cluster is a high-performing school. Could it help them figure out what to do next? Can its program be expanded? Can it be replicated? Are there aspiring leaders in this school who can move into one or more of the neighboring low-performing schools?
Nationally there are tens of thousands of low-performing schools in need of improvement. Setting bars and putting schools on lists hasn’t yielded much success. It is worth looking at patterns of performance within cities and neighborhoods for ideas about how to make more headway.
-Betheny Gross and Christine Campbell