Monday, May 7, 2012

What are compact cities planning?

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded a multi-year initiative to support the design and implementation of district-charter collaboration compacts. In February 2012, 15 compact cities submitted district-charter collaboration concept papers to the Gates Foundation and 8 cities were invited to submit full proposals. Below we summarize common approaches and bold ideas proposed in three areas: 1) increasing supports for special education students and English Language Learners, 2) building a strong pipeline of leaders, and 3) sharing instructional practices.

Increasing supports for special education students and English Language Learners (ELLs) in all schools
Many cities proposed to create a comprehensive resource center that would provide supports to schools serving students with special needs in both charter and district schools. The central resource center could provide shared full-time equivalents (FTEs) across schools, common administration, shared information, and data systems to monitor performance. Cities also proposed to ensure students with higher needs are well served by:

  • Coordinating special education and ELL professional development by inviting both charter and district schools to participate in trainings and share best practices.
  • Pairing district and charter schools with track records of success with different types of students. In Boston, the compact partners proposed for district leaders to help charter leaders better serve special education students and charter leaders to help district leaders with how to better support African-American males.
  • Devising a menu of risk sharing options for all schools to access as they prepare to accept a broader range of students.
  • Leveraging the compact signatories’ critical mass to obtain favorable terms with vendors on purchased services across many areas, including students with high needs.

Building a strong pipeline of leaders and teachers
Many concept papers proposed providing leaders and teachers-to-be with an opportunity to shadow successful educators. Common in proposals was the idea to create a residency-type model where leaders-in-training would complete a fellowship prior to assuming a principal position of their own. There were also several proposals describing how highly qualified pre-service teachers would split time between a high-performing district and high-performing charter school for one year. Other proposed ideas for talent recruitment included:

  • Using data to determine which teachers are the most effective and then elevating those teachers to mentor positions. These teachers would then serve as a resource for both charter and district schools.
  • At the central office level, sharing how charter schools have successfully developed a teacher career pathway and a robust leadership pipeline.

Sharing best instructional practices
Many cities proposed to create a database of Common Core-aligned instructional materials and assessments to support instructional improvement across all sectors. Teachers in both charter and district schools could then easily access and use these resources in their classrooms. Other proposed approaches included:

  • Connecting teachers across schools doing similar work, such as those teaching certain subjects or at schools in high-poverty neighborhoods. Some districts would link these teachers via a Common Core professional learning community (PLC) that would meet after school hours and include a stipend for participation. Teachers could tap each other for support and advice while, at the same time, producing a resource that could then be made available to teachers district-wide.
  • Creating a system for teachers across all schools to craft and administer online standards-based assessments. These tests would go beyond a “data dashboard” system as their results would be linked to corresponding supports such as curricular resources or educator effectiveness tools (e.g., training videos).

Other concept paper priorities
Although the above three themes emerged as most common across cities, other ideas deserve mention. These include:

  • Designing common enrollment systems to ensure fair and open processes across all schools.
  • Implementing equitable funding formulas co-developed by the district and charter operators.
  • Closing and reopening schools based on common measures of school performance, and regardless of school type.
  • Developing school-based collaboration committees that would meet regularly to build charter-district relationships and create and implement action plans to support student achievement in neighborhoods. For example, a committee in one neighborhood may opt to launch a college readiness initiative in which schools pooled staff and resources. The after-school program could combine college access and SAT prep work for students, as well as workshops for parents and guardians.