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Report Fails to Muster Evidence to Support School Improvement Strategies that Remove Democratic Control

BOULDER, CO (June 13, 2017) – A recent report offers a how-to guide for reform advocates interested in removing communities’ democratic control over their schools. The report explains how these reformers can influence states to use the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title I school improvement funds to support a specific set of reforms: charter schools, state-initiated turnarounds, and appointment of an individual with full authority over districts or schools.

Leveraging ESSA to Support Quality-School Growth was reviewed by Gail L. Sunderman of the University of Maryland.

While the report acknowledges that there is limited research evidence on the effectiveness of these reforms as school improvement strategies, it uses a few exceptional cases to explain how advocates seeking to influence the development of state ESSA plans can nevertheless push them forward.

As Sunderman’s review explains, the report omits research that would shed light on the models, and it fails to take into account the opportunity costs of pursuing one set of policies over another. It also relies on test score outcomes as the sole measure of success, thus ignoring other impacts these strategies may have on students and their local communities or the local school systems where they occur. Finally, and as noted above, support for the effectiveness of these approaches is simply too limited to present them as promising school improvement strategies.

For these reasons, concludes Sunderman, policymakers, educators and state education administrators should be wary of relying on this report to guide them as they develop their state improvement plans and consider potential strategies for assisting low-performing schools and districts.

Find the review by Gail L. Sunderman at:

Find Leveraging ESSA to Support Quality-School Growth, by Nelson Smith and Brandon Wright, published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Cities, at: - Leveraging ESSA To Support Quality-School Growth_0.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project ( provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

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