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Policy Patience Pays Off

BOULDER, CO (June 14, 2016) - Research-based policies that provide sustained support can transform struggling schools into effective schools. Serious reform models like the Community Schools Initiative in New York City offer an alternative to the false promise of quickly boosting test scores and calling a school “transformed.” Yet approaches grounded in the idea of sustained improvement present a different challenge: what should policymakers expect, and by when?

In Time for Improvement: Research-Based Expectations for Implementation of the Community Schools Initiative in New York City, Julia Daniel, Kevin Welner and Michelle Renée Valladares of the University of Colorado Boulder describe the major findings from research about the stages of school improvement—research that informs a reasonable timetable for the NYC Community Schools Initiative.

Part of the challenge in improving educational outcomes is that outside-of-school factors likely account for twice as much of the variance in student outcomes as do inside-of-school factors. Accordingly, community-schools approaches like that in NYC attempt to address the academic, social-emotional, and health needs of children as well as the capacity to systemically meet these needs in communities of concentrated poverty. They do so by engaging external organizations and families, creating partnerships that provide services and programs for students, teachers, school staff and leaders.

The authors explain that complex change takes time. Evidence and logic tell us that there must be a lag between initiating a program and seeing measureable results. In the first three to four years, schools generally achieve only partial implementation, with full implementation taking upwards of five to 10 years.

Given the urgent need for educational improvement, more rapid change is desirable. But many current attempts to dramatically “turn around” schools, to show quick improvements in student outcomes, have led to unintended, negative outcomes such as high teacher turnover, large numbers of inexperienced teachers, administrative instability, poor school and classroom climate, and socioeconomic segregation.

The promise of community school models depends on several interim changes resulting in larger systemic changes. The interim improvements involve including families in school communities, surrounding students with the resources and vibrant learning environments to thrive, and creating stable teacher and principal leaders. As the Policy Memo explains, it is these interim steps, not quick increases in test scores, that should be the focus of evaluators and policymakers.

Find Time for Improvement: Research-Based Expectations for Implementation of the Community Schools Initiative in New York City, by Daniel, Welner and Valladares on the web at:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: