Thinking About School Quality

Previous work around school quality has typically identified schools that are “beating the odds.”  Such an approach finds “outlier schools” by analyzing student outcomes, and studies these schools to determine what they appear to be doing well. However, in our early thinking about improving school quality, we began reframing quality around adult behaviors and inputs and the context they build in a school – factors we can actually manipulate.

Quality of Adults

A first piece examines this redefinition of quality of adults. This strategy resonates with us because of problems we perceive with approaches that place the most weight on student outcomes, which are biased by family poverty and factors outside of schools’ control. Next, we asked “If we have metrics on adults, can we predict the student outcomes used in previous accountability metrics?”  Eventually this reframing could provide new nomenclature about quality and serve as a model to guide improvement.  Read more here.

Quality in Schools Serving Similar Students

A second brief was written by our partners at Baltimore City Schools and explores a new methodology to make comparisons more useful for schools. They compared schools that are similar by student characteristics (i.e., the percent economically disadvantaged, and students receiving services for disabilities and learning English). There are many other factors associated with the outcomes of assessment performance, graduation, or college readiness. Given the large number of characteristics that can be measured about schools and students, this research demonstrates how there are multiple, valid ways to assess school quality, and each paints a different picture. This brief presents Baltimore City’s School Performance Measure (SPM), which provides a snapshot of a school’s year-long performance that serves as one component in teacher and principal evaluations, and which school practitioners have found useful. Read more about their work here.

Quality and Closing Schools

The third piece is authored by our partners at the Johns Hopkins School of Education Institute for Education Policy on closing schools — a challenge facing many districts that involves numerous stakeholders, and which
quickly becomes very political since each has a different agenda. While the need to close schools is often clear, how to make the decision and navigate the process is not. This policy brief shares two urban case studies: Chicago Public Schools and New York City Department of Education. Both districts closed dozens of schools between 2000 and 2014, and each used different methods and achieved different outcomes. Read more here. This is a companion piece to IEP’s policy brief.

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