Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the federal government assigned state education agencies a standard playbook for intervening in schools that needed support. However, the federally-prescribed policies didn’t account for local context or conditions, build on evidence-based practices, or involve educator voice.
Now, under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced NCLB, states have flexibility to rethink their approach for supporting schools.
When crafting its new plan for school improvement, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) started with an evaluation of prior efforts and determined NCLB-era initiatives didn’t consider the root causes of achievement and other challenges. As a result, PDE began working on a plan with the understanding that:
- State policies could better align with promising local strategies,
- Districts and schools throughout the commonwealth need more support in attracting and retaining great educators, and
- Rolling out ambitious work sometimes requires starting small.
Following that analysis, as well as a review of school improvement efforts in other states and existing research, PDE believes a better approach to school improvement emphasizes four key conditions:
- Focusing on continuous improvement of instruction,
- Empowering leadership,
- Providing student-centered support systems, and
- Fostering high-quality professional learning for leaders, educators, and support staff
As a result, in its new school improvement process, Pennsylvania has set conditions for school improvement that:
- Incentivize the right practices for teaching and learning,
- Ensure educators have meaningful voice in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of policies, and
- Support the agency’s overarching goals of equity, innovation, and transparency in every school, and across all zip codes.
Following an intensive pilot implemented in 19 schools in three Pennsylvania districts in January 2018, PDE’s new School Improvement Process will expand to additional schools identified in the 2018-19 school year.
On August 8, 2018, Secretary Pedro Rivera was joined by Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, Juniata County School District Superintendent Keith Yarger, and Allentown School District Superintendent Thomas Parker for a press conference on School Improvement in Harrisburg. The superintendents discussed their participation in the pilot program and Secretary Rivera shared information on next steps in expanding the program. Find out more and watch video from the press conference.