Turning Around Low-Achieving Schools: A Blueprint for Reform

Presentation: The National Perspective—A Blueprint for Reform

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ESEA Blueprint for Reform PDF icon


Carl Harris, EdD, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), U.S. Department of Education

Kandace Jones, MBA, Special Assistant, OESE


The facilitator for this presentation was Vicki Dimock, PhD, TXCC Director.

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Text Transcript of VIdeo 1

Carl Harris:
Good Morning, before I get into the Blueprint, I want to make a few comments. First of all, thank you for inviting me and inviting Kandace to be part of this conference. We want you to know that we are real excited. It is a privilege to have this opportunity to share these ideas with such talented and passionate leaders of education. We are thankful to each and every one of you who took time to be here. See, I know what the summer is like; those of us who are in the education business know that the summer is one of the busiest times of the year. Those who are not in the education business think that you guys do nothing over the summer once the kids are out. You are all doing such important work day in and day out, and I am inspired by the passion, commitment and enthusiasm that you bring, especially now that we heighten our efforts to improve outcomes for persistently low-performing schools across our country.

Robin I want to thank you also, and the rest of the SEDL staff, who have done such a wonderful job putting this together. We were not quite sure what to expect when we arrived. First impressions, we always talk about first impressions, first impressions for us were happy. So I will give you a pat on the back. So thanks to their efforts we are all going to be very busy over the next few days. We are going to have the opportunity to share ideas, to address some of the challenges and to learn from one another. It truly is an exciting opportunity for us to be here and be part of it today.

I know from my own experiences as a principal and a superintendent just how hard your work is to insure that your schools are performing at their highest levels. I believe I have a sense of the challenges you are facing, the battles you are fighting and the difference you are making for children each and every day. I want you to know that in my role at the Department of Education, I bring all those experiences with me, and in my focus for how I govern myself each and every day.

We are here today because we know that the success of our children, all of our children, is essential to the success of our country. We also know that a world-class education is the key to securing a more equal, fair and just society. We cannot stay true to our highest ideals, or make good on the promise of the American dream unless we provide an excellent education for every child. While we have definitely made great strides on some fronts, we have yet to realize the goal of equal educational opportunities in America.

As you know, the focus of this conference is turning around low-performing schools. This means we will talk about various turn-around models and what it means to implement one of these in your school and your community. We will also hear about what recent research will tell us about turning around schools in general. You all know that turning around schools involves more than implementing a model. Turning around a school involves a focus on all aspects of teaching and learning, from developing great teachers and great leaders, implementing new initiatives like STEM, to insuring that we address all the issues around our diverse learners.

We have a lot of experts here in this room on these topics. And it is my sincere belief that we will take advantage of this opportunity to learn from each other, to be part of this industry's work, and to insure and excellent education for all of our students. So today, Candice and I are going to share with you the department's blueprint for the reauthorization of ESEA. A plan built around this overall vision that no matter your income, your zip code, your race, language, background, disability status, etc., that every child in our nation is entitled to a quality education. We are excited to share the Blueprint with you.

This is a historic time for public schools in our nation. Never have we had the focus, the level of resources, and commitment of caring professionals like you to make sure that all of our schools are preparing our children for the 21st century since that's the role for them to have. So before I start into the Blueprint, once again I would like to commend you for the efforts that you are putting forward to eliminate low-performing schools in your community. Once all those low-performing schools are eliminated we will all see the benefit of increased quality of education systems throughout our nation. So with that stated I am going to get into the Blueprint.

So, what Candice and I will do, we will go through the Blueprint and at the end, we will do our very best to answer the questions that you have about the Blueprint. I noticed that in your packet you have a copy of the Blueprint and at the end we are going to put a web address on the board for you to see so you can send us any additional comments to us about the Blueprint.

When will reauthorization take place? That is the little ball that I am, the glass ball that I am looking in every day, I haven't seen the magic day come up yet. But we are all hopeful, we are all hopeful that some time in the very near future we will have some break through to gives us some idea of when it will take place. What we do know is that there are lots of conversations that are already taking place, and we want you to know what is in the Blueprint, and we want you to have an opportunity to provide your input about our blueprint, about what you think should be added, deleted, or consider be to changed.

So the overarching goal of the Blueprint is that by 2020, this is what our president has said, as the overarching goal for the Blueprint, that we will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. That is a significant focus for us. There was a time when the United States of America was the leader of the world in college graduates. That is no longer the case. The latest research I believe I read puts us somewhere around 10th. We have a lot of work to do to get back to leading the world with our college graduates. So imbedded in the overarching goal is clearly a focus on early learning. You are going to hear us talk about our children from almost birth throughout college. We have broadened our scope of how we actually focus on our children from the time they are born to the time they graduate from college, hoping that they will be contributors to the society we live in.

So in that case early learning from birth to the third grade, we want all of our students to arrive ready to learn and to stay on track as they advance to the fourth grade. As you know this early learning piece is a huge piece associated with our efforts to close the achievement gap. For those of you again, who work with this everyday, you know that the achievement gap starts before students actually come to our schools. We have to close that gap, that early gap between from that day when a child is born to the day they come into that kindergarten classroom.

I can tell you that my experience as a superintendent going into classes at the very beginning of the school year in kindergarten classes, it was a sad sight for me to sit at a table of kindergarteners, all five years of age, and those who are almost reading and those who can't distinguish one color from the other. In fact, what was so sad about it, there were kids who didn't really know their real name because they lived five years being called by a name other than their real name. So, can you imagine these kids? I witnessed it all the sudden the teacher has to tell them what their real name is. It's not boo. And I can use that because my brother's nickname was boo. Who knows where it came from, but that is what everyone called him until we went to school and found out his real name was Henry.

That is part of that focus on how we can close that gap before children they get to our schools. Once they get to our schools it is our focus that all students that enter middle school from our elementary schools will be prepared with foundational skills to be successful in that middle school setting. As you can see we go right into the secondary with that same kind of focus, right into the post-secondary. And nowhere along this continuum do we kind of point the finger at either level. We are hopeful that we are eliminating the pointing of the finger. The pointing of the finger for me there was a certain elementary principal who always blamed the parents for sending him their worst kids, and I would always say, they send us their best. Don't expect anything more; this is what we are going to get every year, so let's figure out how to do the job the best we can do. Middle schools, as you know, always want to blame the elementary, and high schools want to blame the middle. So we want to eliminate this blame game and figure out how do we address all of these areas and make sure that all of our children are prepared and on point for each grade level.

So the path to the Blueprint, just to give you a little history, it is not something that all of the sudden a group of people one day decided, let's write this document and let's send it across our country, and ask everyone to react to it. The fact is that the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary and many of the senior staff members toured the country getting input from people about what should reauthorization look like. This took place for almost a year. And so, as a result of all the feedback that was given, it summarized four areas of importance: college and career readiness; great teachers are great leaders; being able to provide families with more information about the education system; and improved learning and achievement in our lowest performing schools. So this extensive outreach really exists in the six reform priorities that Candice and I are going to talk about this morning: the college and career ready stimulus; the great teachers are great leaders; the effective teaching and learning for a complete education; meeting the needs of our diverse learners; making sure we have successful safe and healthy students; and fostering innovation and excellence. These again are the six priority areas we are going to talk a little bit more in depth as we go through the Blueprint.

So reinvisioning ESEA, what currently is the NCLB, and what we envision as the result of the reauthorization of ESEA, we will continue to focus on the achievement gap and equity for all our students. That is at the core of every thing we do, and we want to make sure that we continue to do that. We want to shift somewhat from an arbitrary law that we have every kid to be, to focus on whether the student in on track to graduate for college and career readiness. As you can see the Blueprint took a tremendous shift in the conversations we will be having with families and we will be having with children from the day they come to school. You can imagine how the conversation in kindergarten and first grade with parents about college and career readiness because that is depicted throughout the blueprint as part of our standards base. This is a conversation we will be having with every parent. College and career ready, one or the other, college and career ready. It is our hope that we will have the standards that will provide some assurance that we can tell whether or not our kids are on this college and career ready level from kindergarten all the way through to 12th grade. So that we are just back mapping the curriculum down to make sure that these students are on track.

Text Transcript of Video 2

Carl Harris:

We are going to shift from the single pass/fail measure, which as you know we have now. On any given day, a student will go into a classroom and they take the assessment and that defines learning. That's how we determine what the kids know or what they don't know. It is obvious that we can shift from that. We can recognize school success, rewarding progress and growth. We want to shift from the narrow curriculum you hear about quite often. We have sort of narrowed this curriculum because we primarily all of our attention on language arts and math, and now we put science in, so we have more of an emphasis on science to make sure we focus on a well-rounded curriculum. (The rest of the video is currently being transcribed.)