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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

School and District Accountability and Assistance - Level 4 Schools

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
September 10, 2010


In March 2010, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted regulations to identify the 35 Level 4 ("underperforming") schools (see Attachment 1 for a list of those schools). The following is a brief update on the status of planning, funding, and turnaround work currently taking place in the 35 Level 4 schools.

Taken together, the 35 Level 4 schools are in nine districts and serve 18,924 students. District leaders and local union presidents from all nine districts have been receiving ongoing technical assistance through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (ESE) Level 4 Schools Network (L4N). The L4N hosts regular conference calls and technical assistance workshops to clarify the expectations of the new law and grant requirements, and share promising practices for successful turnaround as the districts develop the conditions for their Level 4 schools to improve rapidly (see Attachment 2 for a summary of L4N Activities).

As a result of the individually-tailored timelines called for in the state education reform law enacted in January 2010, An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, the Level 4 schools are each at different stages of their turnaround process.

Status of Turnaround Plan Development

An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap prescribes a specific timeline though which each district develops a turnaround plan on behalf of its Level 4 schools. The state law allowed for an "expedited turnaround plan" option for those districts that had already undergone significant turnaround planning prior to official designation. Boston Public Schools sought this expedited turnaround planning timeline for 11 of their 12 Level 4 schools. This early and expedited turnaround planning put Boston in a position to apply successfully for significantly more funding through School Turnaround Grants (see below) and allows these Boston schools to fully implement a turnaround plan as of the start of the 2010-2011 school year.

For the remaining eight districts, the school turnaround plans are still being developed. All have convened and received recommendations from their local stakeholder groups (comprised of teachers, administrators, social service professionals, parents, and others). One district (Lynn Public Schools) has submitted turnaround plans for their two Level 4 schools and is awaiting my feedback regarding proposed modifications. The Department has developed an interview protocol that we are piloting with staff from Lynn that is designed to inform my decision process by identifying issues requiring additional attention from district leaders. Several districts are in the process of negotiating collective bargaining changes either through the "30 day good faith bargaining" period outlined in the law, or through a Joint Resolution Committee (JRC) that uses a third-party arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association to render decisions on outstanding issues.

All districts will have finalized turnaround plans for each of their Level 4 schools by December 2010.

Funding for Level 4 Schools

Federal School Turnaround Grants
In February 2010, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) finalized regulations for competitive grants to be awarded by the state education agency to support specific turnaround strategies in each state's lowest performing schools. Each district is eligible to apply for $500,000 or more per year for up to three years on behalf of each of its Level 4 schools. A district applying for a School Turnaround Grant is required to choose one of four federally-prescribed intervention models and demonstrate its capacity to implement that model effectively over three years. Details of the grant application can be found at School Turnaround Grants page.

School Turnaround Grant applications require that districts develop extremely rigorous Redesign Plans for each school that are assessed against three criteria:

  1. The extent to which the district and school(s) demonstrates the capacity and commitment to support and implement the proposed strategies;
  2. The extent to which the plans are based on a detailed analysis of current, accurate and precise data; and
  3. The extent to which the plans display a strategic and actionable approach that will lead to rapid and sustainable improvement in targeted schools.

Eleven Level 4 schools successfully applied for School Turnaround Grants this summer and will receive their funds for the 2010-2011 school year. Ten of the schools are in Boston and one is in Springfield.

Level 4 Schools "Bridge Funding"
Due to the high standard by which the federal School Turnaround Grant applications are assessed, many districts had insufficient time to develop Redesign Plans that meet all of the federal criteria. As a result, DESE has made available "Bridge Funding" grants of approximately $100,000 that will be available for Level 4 schools not receiving School Turnaround Grants for the 2010-11 school year. These funds will be made available upon the submission of a Level 4 school's Turnaround Plan, and must be used to implement the strategies outlined in the first year of the plan. Level 4 schools that receive "Bridge Funding" will be eligible to apply in January 2011 for the three-year School Turnaround Grant funds for use beginning 2011-2012.

Turnaround Work in the 2010-2011 School Year

Even though a majority of Level 4 schools do not yet have approved Turnaround Plans, all Level 4 schools are already introducing important changes to the quality of learning experiences. Last spring DESE administered Early Implementation grants averaging $100,000 per Level 4 school for summer professional development activities and other "quick wins" to initiate first year improvements. These resources have helped Level 4 schools take initiatives this school year by introducing students and families to new routines, practices and services, including one or more of the following: new leadership teams, a substantial number of new faculty, upgraded facilities, intensified parent outreach efforts, stronger student supports, revised student and staff schedules, increased learning time, and more extensive professional development.

Last Updated: September 15, 2010
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