Thursday, March 22, 2012

Report Reveals Promising Practices of High-Impact CMOs

Seattle, WA - In January, Mathematica Policy Research (Mathematica) and the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released a study that identified two practices common to successful charter management organizations. CMOs that had the greatest positive impact on student achievement, researchers found, were most likely to establish consistent schoolwide behavior expectations for students, as well as an intense approach to monitoring and coaching teachers.

Today, CRPE and Mathematica release a follow-up study that delves deeper, explaining how five successful CMOs put those approaches into practice. Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching offers valuable guidance for schools and districts looking to replicate these promising practices.

"The students attending these CMOs are making remarkable academic gains, and it's important to examine closely the strategies they are employing, both at the school and system level," said Robin Lake, Director of CRPE and lead author of the report.

The report, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, is one of several deriving from the National Study of Charter Management Organization Effectiveness. This four-year study is analyzing the effectiveness of 22 CMOs by comparing the reading and math achievement of approximately 19,000 CMO middle school students to those with similar backgrounds and prior achievement in traditional schools. Researchers isolated the hallmark practices of the five high-performing CMOs, drawing on information obtained from CMO central office staff, principals, and teachers.

The report describes strategies for communicating and enforcing high expectations for student behavior in four of the high-performing CMOs: Inner City Education Foundation, KIPP DC, Uncommon Schools, and YES Prep. These CMOs' schools relied, more than other schools, on a model that includes schoolwide student behavior expectations with positive reinforcements and clear consequences, zero tolerance policies for potentially dangerous behaviors, and consistent schoolwide enforcement of the student behavior systems. The CMOs reinforced behavior norms by having students and teachers role-play scenarios, by building relationships with parents (including signed contracts investing families in the school culture), and by providing teachers training to model and enforce student expectations. By conveying consistent and clear expectations to students, these CMOs try to create a safe, focused environment where effective learning can take place.

The other practice common to many high-performers profiled is an intense and targeted approach to teacher monitoring and coaching. Four of the CMOs - Aspire (schools throughout California), KIPP DC (Washington, DC), Uncommon Schools (Boston, New York City, Newark, Rochester, and Troy), and YES Prep (Greater Houston) - try to ensure that teachers are observed frequently, not just by administrators but by master teachers, and receive prompt feedback. Individualized coaching, coordinated throughout the school, makes use of a rich trove of achievement data, and teachers receive intensive preparation on classroom management.

Learning from Charter School Management Organizations is of great value for administrators and officials looking to replicate the success of the highest-impact charter schools. The report includes specific examples of how behavior management and teacher coaching systems are set up, and elucidates, in the words of the educators interviewed, their value and the challenges they pose. Among the examples profiled:

  • Uncommon Schools' reward and demerit system
  • ICEF's (South Los Angeles) Socratic behavior plan
  • Aspire's strategic use of coaching time
  • YES Prep's focused coaching corps
  • KIPP DC's use of principals as instructional coaches

The report makes clear that there may be barriers to expanding these practices or transferring them to other schools and districts. These approaches rely on robust data systems that are used regularly to inform instruction, a partnership with parents, a clear set of instructional goals, and strong school leaders -characteristics that may be absent in some institutions. Specific rules (such as a district ban on behavior rewards) may hinder implementation of these practices, or they may be difficult to scale up because of resource constraints.

However, anyone interested in making schools more effective would be well served by studying these exemplars. While the administrators and teachers interviewed said that these practices alone did not make their schools successful, they could not imagine attaining high levels of achievement without them.