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Educational policy analysis archives.
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Corrective action in low performing schools : lessons for NCLB implementation from first-generation accountability systems / Heinrich Mintrop [and] Tina Trujillo.
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Readers are free to copy display, and distribute this article, as long as the work is attributed to the author(s) and Education Policy Analysis Archives, it is distributed for noncommercial purposes only, and no alte ration or transformation is made in the work. More details of this Creative Commons license are available at http:/ / ses/by-nc-nd/2.5/. All other uses must be approved by the author(s) or EPAA EPAA is published jointly by the Colleges of Education at Arizona State University and the Universi ty of South Florida. Articles are indexed by H.W. Wilson & Co. Accepted under the editorship of Sherman Dorn. Send commentary to Casey Cobb ( and errata notes to Sh erman Dorn ( EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES A peer-reviewed scholarly journal Editor: Sherman Dorn College of Education University of South Florida Volume 13 Number 48 December 1, 20 05 ISSN 1068–2341 Corrective Action in Low Performing Schools: Lessons for NCLB Implementation from First-generation Accountability Systems1 Heinrich Mintrop University of California, Berkeley Tina Trujillo University of California, Los Angeles Citation: Mintrop, H. & Trujillo, T.M. (2005). Corrective action in low performing schools: Lessons for NCLB implementation from firs t-generation accoun tability systems. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 13 (48). Retrieved [date] from http://epaa.asu.ed u/epaa/v13n48/. Abstract This paper explores what le ssons we can learn from the experiences of states that instituted NCLB-like accountability sy stems prior to 2001 (here called firstgeneration accountab ility systems). We looked at th e experiences of three smaller states (Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina), four larger ones (California, Florida, New York, Texas), and two la rge districts (Chicago and Philadelphia). We analyzed evaluative reports and policy documents as well as interviews wi th state officials and researchers. We conden sed the material into eight lessons: sanctions are not the fallback solution; no single strategy has been universally successful; staging should be handled with flexibility; inte nsive capacity buildi ng is necessary; a comprehensive set of strategies seems promising; relationship-building needs to 1 This article is based on two CRESST Technical Reports (Mintrop & Papazian, 2003; Mintrop & Trujillo, 2004).


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 2 complement powerful programs; competence reduces conflict; and strong state commitment is needed to create system capacity. Keywords: corrective action, accoun tability, No Child Left Behind. Introduction According to NCLB, states are to create accountability systems by formulating standards, testing students regularly, defining a baseline, and setting a level of proficiency from 2001 performance levels. Schools are required to attain adequate yearly progress (AYP) towards proficiency. AYP can vary from year to year, but all schools need to have reached proficiency for 100 percent of their students by the school year 2013–14. Schools that lag behind are subject to an intervention process constructed in three stages: improvement, corrective action, and restructuring. When a school fails to make AYP two years in a row, it enters the improvement stage. Schools in this stage engage in a process of internal school renewal. They write a school improvement plan and implement effective programs, comprehensive sch ool improvement models, and extended services. Districts are required to provide assistance. A school can contract with third-party providers. Parents have the option to enroll their children in anot her school and upon the school’s failure to make AYP in the first improvement year parents have the right to enroll their children in tutoring services provided by the district or other organizations. If schools fail to make AYP yet another year, they enter the stage of corrective action during whic h district intervention intensifies. Among other measures, staff can be removed, curricula ma ndated, management authority revoked, and instructional time extended. Should a school linge r and fail to make AYP yet one more year, major restructuring is to occur via reconstitution, state takeover, conversion into a charter, transfer to a private management company and other, similarly radical measures. Thus, a school that fails to improve for five consecutive years ceases to exist in its original form according to NCLB. Districts encounter a similar staged approach. When they fail to make district AYP for two consecutive years, they enter the improvement stage that primarily en tails programmatic changes. After another two years of missing AYP, they are subj ect to corrective action that may seve rely curtail their authority. This paper concentrates on the stage of co rrective action and further restructuring. We summarize what lessons might be gleaned from firs t-generation accountability systems for this stage. Under NCLB, states and districts may soon face the burden of increasing numbers of schools that failed to improve under the softer touch of probation and school improvement. For some states, the NCLB three-stage approach to low-performing sc hools is novel. But other state governments acted prior to federal legislation. Some jurisdictions identified quite a substantial number of low performing schools, and some states have moved on to more forceful interventions in schools and districts. Although most of these earlier first-ge neration high-stakes systems echo the structures of NCLB in its basic format, they differ widely in their repercussions for identified low performing schools and districts (Rudo, 2001). States impl ementing NCLB or aligning their existing accountability system to NCLB can learn from th ese variations. Insights from first-generation systems can help avoid less promising design features or suggest likely trajectories for certain system designs. The Research We looked at three smaller states (Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina) and four larger ones (California, Florida, New York, Texas). These seve n states constitute the main body of our research.


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 3 We also looked at Chicago’s and Philadelphia’s approach to low-performi ng schools. We selected these systems for five reasons: they are first-genera tion systems that have spearheaded high stakes accountability in the U.S.; have been in existence for some time; have figured prominently in the public discussion on high stakes accountability pr ior to NCLB; have gained experiences with corrective action and school redesign; and are covered by some research material. Not all five criteria applied to all jurisdictions. We asked about the following issues associated wi th accountability: the kinds of initiatives, programs, or policies undertaken with regard to schools with persistently low test scores that failed the first stage of intervention; the scale on whic h these programs operated; which set of actors (teachers, school administrators, districts) were the recipients of interventions; how pressures and sanctions were used; what kind of capacity building was provided; what management structures states or districts used for the provision of these services; what evidence of success that might exist; and what lessons could be gleaned from answers to these questions for states that are in the process of designing corrective action or school redesign programs. Our data are studies, papers, reports, and information from web sites, and we relied on interviews and personal communication with officials to fill gaps.2 Although we now have reports on the impact of high-stakes testing on schools in several states, systematic evaluations of lowperforming schools programs are rare, and of corrective action initiatives even more so.3 Our descriptive analysis cannot compensate for this lack It is generally very difficult to determine the effectiveness of a given program, even more so th e effectiveness of a particular design element. Many factors mediate the influence of a particular state or district policy on school performance, including the local context, the specific mixtur e of interventions, or the time allotted for improvement. It is even more difficult to assess the effectiveness of a specific program relative to other differently structured programs without a common metric that would allow us to compare in a straightforward way. Given these limitations, we cannot evaluate states ’ and districts’ corrective action efforts, but we can do more than merely describe design featur es. We refrained from burdening the reader with too much descriptive information.4 Rather, we concentrate on lessons learned. We hope that our overview may help systematize and categorize the st ates’ various strategies and their consequences. In this way, we hope to foster an informed discussion about corrective action and school redesign based on previous experiences. Commonalities and Differences across Systems Across the states and districts, the following elements, in varied combinations, are most frequently associated with corrective action and school redesign: school improvement grants, 2 We conducted background interviews with individuals from the following organizations: Baltimore City Public School System; California Department of Education; The Center for Urban School Policy; The Charles A. Dana Center; Florida Depa rtment of Education; Johns Hopkins University; Kentucky Department of Education; Maryland State Department of Education; New York State Department of Education; North Carolina Department of Pub lic Instruction; NYU’s Institute for Educ ation and Social Policy; Research for Action in Philadelphia; School District of Philadelp hia; Texas A & M University; Texas Education Agency; and WestEd. 3 For examples of evaluations of high stakes te sting policies, see Herman (2004); Koretz and Barron (1998); Stecher, Barron, Chun, and Ross (2000); and Stecher, Barron, Kaganoff, and Goodwin (1998). 4 For a good descriptive report, see Coun cil of Chief State School Officers (2003).


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 4 professional development, new instructional materia ls, programmatic prescriptions (e.g., pacing plans, structured reading and math programs), n ew or extension of existing services (e.g., summer school, extended day, after-school ), on-site instructional specialists, evaluations or audits, intervention teams or individual change agents, bureaucratic pressures (e.g., reassignment of teachers, principals, external monitors, increase d oversight), market pressures (vouchers, school choice, student reassignment, magnet schools), school reorganizations or reconstitutions, teacher recruitment incentives, teacher quality policies, school construction and repair programs, and changes of governance and authority (e.g., special districts, educational management organizations, charters, school takeover, district takeover). Although NCLB creates some uniformity in states’ approaches to low performance by demanding adequate yearly progress towards a pr oficiency ceiling, the rigor of performance demands and intervention burdens differ across states. These differences influence the chances of persistently low-testing schools to improve and for corrective action and redesign to be successful. Some systems put high demands on schools by either testing student achievement with cognitively complex tests or by expecting growth that was set according to an ambitious performance ceiling. Others took a more moderated approach. They us ed, for example, basic skills tests that only challenge schools at the lower end of the spectrum or they set flexible growth targets that are adjusted to the system’s current real growth. Some systems only entered schools into the low performing schools program that were rock-bottom performers, others identified schools on various absolute performance levels that missed their gro wth targets. Programs differed on what kind of growth it took for a school to exit the program and to shed the low performance label. Moreover, some accountability systems had implemented vigorous district accountability, others had not (Mintrop & Papazian, 2003). These mechanisms produce low performing sc hools programs with different improvement challenges and on different scales. These differences also entail varying numbers of schools that fail the first stage of school improvement and are in n eed of further corrective action. Programs with relatively high performance demands that id entify large numbers of schools in the lowest performing category face a higher burden than programs with modest instructional demands that keep their operational scale low. Generally speaking apart from a program’s initial stages when the load of identified schools can be up to a fourth of all schools (e.g., Kentucky), first generation accountability systems kept the scale of their prog rams fairly modest (between 2 and 4 percent), California being the exception. Table 1 Differences between percent of students scorin g proficient on NAEP and state tests (2003) CALIFORNIATEXAS KENTUCKY Grade/subject NAEP State GapNAEP State GapNAEP State Gap 4th gr. Reading 21 39 18 27 85 58 31 62 31 8th gr. Reading 22 30 8 26 88 62 34 57 23 4th gr. Math 25 45 20 33 87 54 22 38 16 8th gr. Math 22 30 8 25 72 47 24 31 7 Note : Figures from Education Week Jan. 6, 2005. NCLB leaves it up to the states to define test rigor and proficiency levels, though the federal NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) tests function as a benchmark that states are to strive for. Tables 1 and 2 show how testing ri gor fundamentally structures a state’s challenge and intervention burden.


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 5 Table 2 Numbers of schools in need of im provement based on AYP (2003–04) Statistic CALIFORNIA TEXAS KENTUCKY N 1,626 199 130 Percent ~20% ~6% ~12% Note : Figures from Education Week Jan. 6, 2005. States, such as California, with high testi ng rigor in combination with challenging demographic conditions produce an enormous inter vention burden while states with less rigorous tests and more lenient definitions of proficiency, such as Texas, face a relatively modest challenge. Kentucky is a state with medium testing rigor and correspondingly a medium intervention burden. The following lessons apply to states with perf ormance goals in at least the medium range. Lessons Learned Although we lack research or evaluation re ports about schools under corrective action or redesign that warrant definitive claims as to the effectiveness of particular strategies or designs, we can nevertheless glean a number of lessons, cauti onary in nature, from the various states and districts we analyzed. Sanctions and Increasing Pressures Are Not the Fallback Solution Pressure and the threat of more severe sanctions were a conspicuous feature of lowperforming schools programs when high-stakes acco untability systems first came into existence in the 1990s. Such systems, relatively undeveloped in the area of support and capacity building, unduly relied on the power of sanctions as fallback solutions Schools could encounter relatively mild public stigma due to the negative performance label im posed on them, more intense scrutiny from review and evaluation teams, more administrative re quirements, such as the writing of a school improvement plan, or more severe sanctions. Practically all of the sanctions suggested by NCLB have been on the books or been tried by the firs t-generation systems examined here, though each system’s mix may differ from NCLB. In California, principals and teachers were threatened to be reassigned. Schools could be taken over by the state. They could be reorganized, closed, or assigned to the management of another educational or non-pr ofit institution. Parents could select a different public school or apply for charter school status (“ PSAA,” 1999). State takeover was the most severe sanction in the Maryland system (MSDE, 2001). Pu blic hearings, appointment of a special on-site monitor or master, and eventual school closure wer e envisaged by the Texas regulations as sanctions (“PSSA,” 1995). Assignment of an instructional officer, external partner, removal of the principal, and school reconstitution (i.e. staff reassignment and reorganization) figured prominently in the Chicago system (Hess, 2003). Redesign and closure were also primary sanctions in the New York SURR program (Brady, 2003; NYSED, 2002b). Kent ucky and North Carolina added penalties to this list that touch individual teachers more seve rely (Holdzkom, 2001; La dd & Zelli, 2001; SERVE, 2001). Teachers in low performing schools were ev aluated and could be required to take a general knowledge competency test in North Carolina (Manzo 1998); in Kentucky, as well, they could be evaluated with the possibility of transfer, demoti on, or dismissal (David, Coe, & Kannapel, 2003).


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 6 But these sanctions were very rarely imposed and their centrality faded over time. Kentucky is a good example. The original language of sc hools “in decline” and “in crisis” was replaced by schools “in need of assistance” (David et al., 200 3). Only the lowest-performing schools (30 out of the 90 schools “in need of assistance” in 2001) wer e required to accept assistance. The other 60 had the option to participate. The state-appointed Di stinguished Educators, who initially combined technical assistance and probation management in th eir role, were renamed Highly Skilled Educators and shed their evaluative function (David, Kanna pel, & McDiarmid, 2000). Actual imposition of final sanctions has been a negligible feature in Kentucky. In Texas, more severe sanctions akin to the level of corrective action were used very sparingly. In 2002, there were seven schools un der the supervision of a monitor who has little authority, and two schools under the supervision of a master who has au thority over the local district (TEA, 2002). The state has reconstituted only a handful of schools (Ferguson, 2000). Texas primarily relies on the threat of bad publici ty to motivate districts and schools to improve performance (Izumi & Evers, 2002; Skrla, Scheur ich, Johnson, & Koschoreck, 2003). Likewise in Maryland, after five years of high stakes accounta bility, the state finally took over four schools and assigned them to private management or ganizations (MSDE, 2001; CCSSO, 2003). In New York and Chicago, more severe sanctions played a greater role. Within New York’s Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) program, affecting primarily New York City, some 35 schools have been closed since the inception of the program (NYSED, 2002a). In Chicago, 7 high schools were reconstituted in the 1997/98 school year, but this has not been repeated (Hess, 2003). Moreover, school principals are now r eceiving training and support from an area instructional officer making the original probation manager superfluous.5 When the present California accountability system was designed, the turn from pressure to support that earlier accountability systems seemed to have undergone was evident. The California program already began with voluntary participation of qualifying schools, though in actuality most schools were ‘volunteered’ by their districts (O 'Day & Bitter, 2003). Schools selected into the program accepted increased scrutiny and accountability from the state in return for funds usable for capacity building at the site (Posnick-Goodwin, 2003 ). Although large proportions of eligible schools that chose not to apply were left out, those that did enroll pinned their hopes for improvement on additional support. The threat of further sanctions was a mere background feature of the program, according to O’Day and Bitter (2003) as well as data collection by the author. When fewer schools than envisioned met their growth targets, the state re frained from building up pressure. It readjusted growth expectations and added additional intervent ion layers preceding more severe sanctions. In this way, out of the first cohort of 430 schools accep ted into the program, the state identified merely 24 schools that required this additional intermediate intervention when only about a fourth met the state’s original performance demands. Why this turn from pressure to support? Some suspect that states shrink from the responsibility and political costs that the heavy hand of sanctions entails (Brady, 2003). This is one plausible explanation, but other research suggests that, political costs notwithstanding, the pressure strategy is a double-edged sword and not as promisin g as perhaps originally perceived. The few that are available speak to a number of reasons: The results of more severe sanctions and the implemen tation of major school redesigns as envisioned by state regulati on have shown to be inconclusive (ECS, 2002, p. 6). 5 For a detailed description of Chicago’s recent incorporation of the Area Instructional Officers into the district accountability system, see Chic ago Public Schools (2002) available at: dfs/cps_education_plan.pdf


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 7 Educating children is a highly complex task, but high-stakes accountability systems usually privilege very few perfor mance indicators, often one central test for instructional perf ormance. Forcing teachers to severely narrow the scope of their work creates serious acceptability problems for the state assessments. As a result, the educational meaningfulness of accountability systems among pressured teachers is low, and teachers reject the system as an intrinsic motivator for their work (Mintrop, 2003). Heightened pressure exacerbates already se vere teacher commit ment problems in many low-performing schools. Many lowperforming schools ar e not attractive work places, and under cu rrent labor market conditions, schools in many jurisdictions with high conc entrations of low-performi ng schools are staffed with large numbers of new, ofte n insufficiently trained teac hers with low commitment to stay. Likewise, principal turn-over is hi gh as well. Principals under pressure of accountability often act as conduits of pressure making for unsupportive working relationships between teacher s and administration. Thus, too much pressure may lead to dissatisfaction, exit, or additi onal organizational fragmentation (Mintrop, 2004, p. 66). Identifying low performing schools has put the spotlight on glaring capacity deficits in these schools that a motivati on strategy alone ca nnot remedy. This in turn brings issues of fairness and attr ibution to the fore When schools and teachers feel forced to assume responsibi lity for critical co nditions of student performance over which th ey lack authority and control, they may reject accountability altogether, ra ther than assume responsibility for their contribution. In this case accountability becomes co unterproductiv e and de-motivating (Malen, Croninger, Muncey, & Jones, 2002, p. 120). In sum, in order for accountab ility systems to work as proper incentive systems, they must appeal to the “better parts” of the profession. High performing teachers and administrators in low-performing schools, in exis tence in most low-performing sc hools, are indispensable for a successful reform strategy, and su ch personnel ought to consider accountability demands as a lever to pull lower performing teachers along. But unduly inten sifying pressures and sanctions tend to create defensiveness an d turn off the very people on whose willingnes s, if not idealism, states and districts need to rely. Thus, in their majority, first generation states have either rarely used or turned away from high pressure as a main lever to motivate teachers. Instead they came to emphasize mild pressure as a means to motivate educators to improve performa nce. By contrast, under NCLB, schools may face severe sanctions in a rather short time, and voluntary participation is excluded as an option. If experiences of the first-generation accountability sys tems are any indication, states are advised not to rely too much on the power of pressures to get the job done, that is, not to depend on sanctions as a fallback solution. Rather, states need to constr uct powerful low performing schools programs that make corrective action and school redesign an un common occurrence. Such programs place heavy emphasis on support and intervention, bolster commit ment of teachers to low-performing schools, and strongly motivate educators. Such accountability systems set goals that are deemed realistic, use assessments that are educationally meaningful (i .e. deemed valid and fair), facilitate school evaluations that allow schools to see their contribution to the performance problem, offer suggestions on how schools can improve, and identi fy those barriers of performance that district


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 8 and state policies are called to remedy (Mintrop & Pa pazian, 2003). Ultimately, such systems need to appeal to the values of “the better parts of the profession.” No Single Strategy Has Been Universally Successful A number of strategies have been tried fo r corrective action and school redesign, but evidence shows that their effect is far from conclusive (Brady, 2003). Reconstitution. In California, previously locally re constituted schools in the city of San Francisco showed up again on the state’s low-perfor ming schools list and one is actually slated for corrective action again (author’s analysis). In Maryland, some local reconstitutions actually exacerbated schools’ capacity problem s, reduced schools’ social stability, and did not lead to the hoped for improvements, although a number of school s also benefited from the fresh start (Malen et al., 2002). Results from Chicago’s reconstitutions were inconclusive as well. Fundamentally, staff replacements were not necessarily of higher quality than the original teaching staff, and in many schools teacher morale plummeted (Hess, 2003). In New York’s SURR program corrective action and redesign were used more vigorously. Almost fi fty schools were reconstituted (ECS, 2002). More than a tenth of the schools were closed. Some sc hools benefited, yet only about half (153) of the SURR schools have exited the program successfully so far (Brady, 2003; NYSED, 2003). Educational management organizations. Maryland took over four schools from the Baltimore City school district and passed them on to two educational management organizations (EMOs) (MSDE, 2001c). Under one of the EMOs, only one of its three schools saw consistent gains, one performed unevenly, and one was not improving. In Philadelphia, we have higher numbers of schools that were taken over. One fourth of all district schools were taken over, with 46 managed by different external ma nagement organizations and 21 by the district’s newly created Office of Restructured Schools. Here, each provid er offers different models of intervention (Travers, 2003a). Preliminary data suggest that the quality and content of the interventions may differ substantially and that the schools managed by the district’s own Office of Restructured Schools may have achieved greater gains than sc hools managed by EMOs (Useem, 2005). Takeover by EMOs coincided with soaring resignations an d teacher turnover in affected schools (Neild & Spiridakis, 2002; Neild, Useem, Travers, & Lesnick, 2003). It also resulted in miscommunication and in some cases overwhelm by principals who fe lt like they were serving two masters—the EMO and the central office (Blanc, 2003; Bulkley, Mundell, & Riffer, 2004). Thus, takeover by management companies has helped in some case s, but is not universally positive.6 A recent multi-state study by the Brown Center at the Brookings Institution finds that schools taken over by EMOs (and run as charter schools) tend to score much lower than their district-administered counterparts, but outscore regular public schools on test score gains (The Brown Center, 2003). The authors suggest that EMO charters’ low test scores are explained by the fact that EMOs tend to take over the lowest perfor ming schools, but the data are not conclusive on this point. External partners. This feature was widely used in Chicago where each school on probation (i.e. still in the improvement stage) was assigned an external partner (Hess, 2003). Originally, external partners developed their own models of intervent ion, but disparities in the quality of services concerned the district (O'Day & Finnigan, 2003). In time, the district came to place stronger emphasis on reading, forcing external partners to adapt their work in the schools to meet these literacy goals. Analysts stated that some partners added superficial reading strategies to their 6 For an analysis of one EMO’s uneven results, see Bracey (2002).


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 9 intervention. This compromised their original mo del and made them less effective. On the other hand, in reconstituted schools (i.e. those undergoi ng corrective action) about half of the teaching force found their external partner useful in formulating a shared vision and offering new techniques and strategies after having worked with them for a number of years (Hess, 2003). But an inherent problem in external partner models is the lack of focus on state or district goals and the uneven quality of provided consultant services.7 Charters. While the research base on charter scho ols is expanding, little is known about charter school conversion as a means of corrective action and school redesign.8 Available data seem to suggest that converting district-administered schools into charter schools has had uneven results. A multi-state study by the Brown Center on Amer ican Education shows that generally charter schools lag behind, or are similar to, regular pub lic schools in absolute performance and gains from year to year (The Brown Center, 2003). Charter sc hools also tend to show up on states’ lists of failing schools in larger proportions than regular public schools. Schools that are converted from district-administered status to charter status are an exception. In the Brown Center study, conversion charters scored more highly than their public school counterparts and start-up charters. The authors point out, however, that conversion charters tend not to be corrective action schools, but schools that are let go by their districts as a fo rm of reward for solid performance, although solid data on this point are missing. Early anecdotal evidence from Philadelphia suggests that charter school conversion without the benefit of an exter nal provider model may be the least successful conversion of the ones tried there.9 District takeovers. State takeovers of entire districts ha ve also produced uneven outcomes. Financial management is often cited as the most promising area for potential success by states (Garland, 2003). For example, in Newark, New Je rsey, the state reorganized the district and reallocated $26 million geared toward instruction. When the state stepped into Chicago Public Schools, an anticipated $4 billion deficit was eliminated. However, equally dramatic academic success has been much harder to achieve (Ziebarth, 2002). Academic gains have been mixed at best, most often occurring only after multiple years of interve ntion. Takeovers in Logan County, West Virginia, Compton, California, and Chicago, Illinois, are herald ed as exceptions that yielded some positive academic gains (Garland, 2003). In a survey of takeover experiences, Garland (2 003) details the early lessons about this last resort for low-performing districts: more effective takeovers focus on areas that the state has the capacity to influence, such as financial management eliminating nepotism, or facilities improvement; attending to the political elements of takeovers through collaboration, negotiation, and local alliances can minimize conflict and resistance; and additional funding, coupled with comprehensive capacity building efforts for both teachers and administrators can yield more positive results. Nevertheless, he cautions state actors to avoid authoritarian a pproaches to takeovers and to be mindful of the powerful racial, legal, and political issues that typically accompany these measures. Former Compton and current Oakland, California, state administrator, Randolph Ward (2004), advocates a comprehensive approach to impr oving the academic and financial conditions of schools or districts in crisis based on lessons lear ned during his tenure. These strategies include: developing innovative initiatives for aggressive teacher recruitment and program development; 7 Studies of Comprehensive School Reform Design implementation have found analogous disparities in the quality of services provid ed. See Murphy and Datnow (2002) for examples of such trends. 8 For a comprehensive review of the recent research on charter schools, see Bulkley and Wohlstetter (2003). 9 In Philadelphia, charter conversions were part of the remedies for low performing schools, not high performing ones, such as those refe renced by The Brown Center (2003).


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 10 implementing safety net programs like Readin g Recovery; creating motivational attendance programs; organizing accelerated learning programs like full-day kindergarten; providing an extended school year; and aligning curriculum with standards-based testing requirements. Vouchers. Probably the best known example of vouche rs attached to low-performance is the state of Florida where students in schools that repeatedly receive an F for their performance can attend private schools on a state voucher. The eff ectiveness of vouchers as a means to increase competition for low-performing schools is debated. Greene (2001) evaluated Florida’s A+ program and found that low performing schools improve mo re when they face a challenge from vouchers. However, that research has been criticized on methodological grounds (Camilli & Bulkley, 2001). Thus, at present we do not have sufficient evidence on vouchers as a corrective action strategy. Intervention teams. These are teams that enter schools as authoritative interveners. They are charged to evaluate schools, prescribe remedies, and help with implementation. In North Carolina, these teams were said to be rath er successful (Ladd & Zelli, 2001); in California they worked with mixed success, encountering much resistance at the school level (Posnick-Goodwin, 2003). The two states differ with regard to both operational principles and context. The North Carolina teams were recruited by the state from the ranks of seasoned practitioners an d closely worked with schools on an almost daily basis. As teachers in North Caro lina cannot engage in collective bargaining, teacher unions are less of a force. In California, the teams were either third-party pr oviders or county offices of education that traditionally were not involved in the day-to-day affairs of regular district schools. They were required to be at the schools a minimum of only three times per year (CDE, 2003). Their initial intervention was tightly circumscribed and, according to interviews with School Assistance and Intervention Team members, tended to eschew instruction. In summary, a variety of corrective action stra tegies have been tried by the examined systems, but none stick out as universally effective or robust enough to overcome the power of local context. Competence of provider personnel, intervent ion designs, political power of actors in the system, and district and site organizational capacity to absorb the strategies all strongly influence how a particular strategy will turn out. Staging Should be Handled with Flexibility Although NCLB lays out a straightforward th ree-stage approach, with corrective action and school redesign being the second or third steps, respectively, schools that are persistently unable to meet AYP are not virgin reform territory for th e most part. Many persistently low-performing schools are not stable in their stagnation, but volatile and continuously reconstituting in an unplanned way. Teacher and administrator turnover is often high, external consultants plentiful and ever changing, and district intervention intensified (Mintrop, 2004; Neild & Spiridakis, 2002; Neild et al., 2003). In all likelihood, many low-performing schools, unable to meet federal AYP, will have previously been subjected to substantial local refo rm measures. Districts th at anticipate state action and carry out local school restructuring often move principals and staff, conduct inspections, and mandate programs before a school appears on the st ate or federal radar screen. When that happens, schools may have to repeat improvement stages or cycles once they enter federal or state corrective action. Moreover, a comparison of state systems shows how blurred the lines between the stages are in practice. In North Carolina, Kentucky or Florid a, the first stage of intervention is already so intense that it could classify as corrective action.10 By contrast, California’s persistently low-testing 10 For in-depth descriptions of these syst ems, see Holdzkom (2001) and SERVE (2001).


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 11 schools do not even encounter this kind of intensi ty in the second stage of intervention when they are visited by a state assistance and interve ntion team (“PSAA,” 1999). Kentucky and North Carolina do not seem to carry out a significan tly different corrective action stage. Maryland apparently moved schools from the first stage of lo cal improvement directly into the third stage of takeover and governance change (MSDE, 2001). Something similar has happened in Philadelphia where a fairly large number of the lowest perfor ming schools will make their journey through the NCLB stages as already redesigned schools (Travers, 2003b). As was pointed out above, charter schools tend to show up on states’ failing schools li sts in larger proportions than regular public schools. For these schools as well, fundamental redesign happened before school improvement intervention. In other words, rather than being distinct stages of intervention intensity, NCLB interventions will increasingly look like a deja vu to affected schools unless states design intervention approaches that are truly different from all th e other things a school has already tried. Such approaches need to decrease turbulence, rather than add to it. Thus, instead of rigid staging, states and districts need flexibility in designing measures that are appropriate to the developmental needs of a given school, an approach that Texas seems to favor. Intensive Capacity Building Is Necessary Different approaches to capacity building ac ross states’ low-performing schools programs can inform the design of powerful interventions for the corrective action stage. Generally, state strategies consist of the following elements: Additional funds They are not present in all programs. In some programs the sums are negligible; in others they are substantial. Evaluation/Audit These can be short, unstructured visits from state department officials or extensive one-week inspections during wh ich the school’s operations are examined comprehensively. School improvement plans The requirement that low-perf orming schools wr ite these plans according to state or district templates is a univer sal feature across all programs. The programs differ in the degree to which these plans are reviewed an d validated by an external authoritative body and in the degree to which their implementation is monitored on site. On-site personnel In the most basic version, they are just monitors of the school improvement plan or the general development of th e school, the eyes and ears of the state. In some programs, they primarily have a helping role. Th ey provide support in analyzing test data, observe lessons and give model lessons, help in selecting instructional programs and instructional strategies, provide staff development, and give management advice. In some programs, they have a more authoritative role as they evaluate teachers and pr incipals, and give reports to governing bodies. First-generation accountability systems differe d in the degree to which these school level oversight and support services were developed. Capa city building intersected with testing rigor, with consequences for schools’ performance and the e ffectiveness of low-performing schools programs. We distinguish among four patterns: Ambitious state goals without a capacity building strategy. The toughest challenge ahead was created by the Maryland system in the 1990s The system targeted extremely hard cases in decline, demanded of schools to adjust to highly complex assessments (which fewer than half the state’s student population managed to pass with satisf action), and set the exit criteria very high. The


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 12 state department limited the burden of the lowperforming schools program by capping the number of schools at around a hundred (about 7% of all schools) although more schools could have qualified according to the state’s criteria. One dist rict, however, was burdened with managing about half of its schools as identified low performers The state did not develop an elaborate capacity building structure. State monitors were the eyes and ears of the state. Their role in internal school improvement efforts was minimal. Very few low-pe rforming schools managed to exit the program; and indeed schools state-wide stagnated until the system was abandoned. In the Maryland case, state performance demands were decoupled from existing capacities and with a lack of compensatory capacity building, pressures became ineffective or counterproductive. Less ambitious and flexible go als pegged to state interven tion (and teacher) capacity Texas took an approach that contrasted with that of Maryland in testing rigor, but seemed to exhibit similarities regarding capacity building. The sta te pegged performance demands at levels that were within reach for most schools and kept the intervent ion burden relatively small. In 1995, the system identified 267 low-performing schools. The nu mbers dropped to 59 in 1998, and rose again continuously to 150 in 2002 (TEA, 2002), but th e thresholds for entrance and exit rose in the meantime. With these numbers, the program fluctuated in the 2 to 4% range of the total number of schools in the state and tended to exit most iden tified schools after a short while in the program. Texas had a decentralized form of governing schools. Most decisions were made on site, and because the state had only limited capacity to suppo rt ailing schools, it was indirectly involved in providing assistance (Ferguson, 2000). However, the state required low-performing schools and districts to compile a school improvement plan. It sent peer review teams to schools and districts that visited a school or district for varying lengths of time depending on size of school or district. These peer review teams were made up of state de partment staff and evaluators that received training with the help of a CD. In addition, the state organized educational support centers that offered their services to low-performing schools and districts, but not exclusively so. Other schools in need of support could contact these centers as well. Texas did not furnish additional monetary grants to low-performing schools. Only a sm all number of schools were under more direct supervision. As was mentioned above, in the year 2003 only seven schools were visited by monitors and two schools supervised by so called masters. Texas, however, had strong mechanisms built into its accountability system that identified low-perfor ming districts directly and threatened them with further sanctions. Thus in Texas, relatively small proportions of schools were identified as low performing. Demands on schools were modest and exit criteria within reach. At the same time, the state’s support and intervention system was relatively lim ited. Given that performance demands were more closely pegged to existing teacher capacities (bec ause the system challenged schools in the bottom 20 to 40 percent of the performance distribution with cognitively simple tests), the state could bank on a pressure strategy that succeeded by motivating sc hools to harvest the low-hanging fruit (Mintrop, 2003). Figure 1 illustrates (for performance in 8th grade Reading state-wide) the difference between the stagnation of school performance in the Mary land system and the upward trend in the Texas system (leaving the issue of exclusion rates aside).11 Both systems elected to refrain from elaborate capacity-building features within their low-perf orming schools programs, but in the Texas case upward trends were probably a result of in creased pressures around minimum-competency 11 For an analysis of the impact of exclusion ra tes on Texas achievement patterns, specifically the increased rates of failure of students in grade 9 and the increased number of students leaving school before high-school graduation see Haney (2000).


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 13 standards, a strategy that was pre-empted in the Maryland case by the gulf between school capacity and high state demands. 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 12345678 Year (1994 to 2001)Percent Meeting Standard TX MD Figure 1 Trends in percent of students meeting standard in Texas and Maryland: Grade 8 reading12 Ambitious state goals, substa ntial school site grants without focused intervention. California’s program experienced a surge of identified lo w-performing schools. Growth expectations and entrance rules for below-average performers were set in such a wa y that after 3 years the lowperforming schools programs enrolled about 20% of all schools that received an Academic Performance Index,13 or about 1,500 schools. The scale of the programs was curtailed by its voluntary feature. Being voluntary, schools and districts decided whether they would apply for additional funds in return for scrutiny and threat s of further interventions. In 2001, only 527 or 56% of the 935 eligible schools (for the main program) applied.14 In 2002, of the 1,266 eligible schools, only 765 or 60% applied to the program, thus abou t half of the eligible schools decided to bypass the program each year. The state ended up a ccepting only 430 schools each year for funding 12 From Linn, Baker, and Betebenner (2002). 13 California’s Academic Performance Index (API) is a numeric index (or scale) that ranges from 200 to 1000. A school's API score is one indicator of a school's performance level. The statewide API target for all schools is 800. A school's growth is measured by how well it is moving to ward or past that goal. 14 There were actually two programs, the main one applying to all schools below the 50th percentile, the secondary one targeting only Decile 1 schools.


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 14 (through its main program). Had all eligible schools been designated, the scale of the program would have been enormous. For capacity building the st ate relied on the massive disbursement of grants that were attached to a very loosely cons tructed oversight structure (Mintrop, 2002). Identified schools had to contract with an ex ternal evaluator who was chosen from a stateapproved list. Educational reform projects, consulta nts, county offices of education and later even district offices themselves could apply to this list. The state compiled this list based on written applications received from these external vendor s or agencies. Training in evaluation was not provided. The state, however, did require vendors to reapply to the list showing evidence of success. The external evaluators negotiated with schools the extent of thei r fees and services. The state provided schools with a $50,000 planning grant that could be used to pay the external evaluator, and then another $ 200 per student per year over 2 yea rs that was to pay for capacity building measures chosen at the school’s discretion. During these 2 years, the school was expected to have met its growth targets. To receive this money, schools were to write a school improvement plan that was at first given a cursory review by the state department Subsequently, this requirement was reduced to a short summary of the plan, the full plan being kept on file locally. Thus, in the California case, the state department kept a low profile. It relied prim arily on grant making at a magnitude far greater than most other states we examined, on the capaci ty of local vendors, the willingness of local districts, and the wisdom of schools to spend the money wisely. A management structure facilitating quality assurance of the support system was only wea kly developed. Reports showed that schools’ responses to the program varied widely and depe nded on the varying quality of external evaluators (CDE, 2001; Goe, 2001). A systematic evaluation of the program matching schools enrolled in the low-performing schools program with eligible schools that did not enroll showed no effect on test scores for the enrolled schools (O'Day & Bitter, 2003). Increased accountability pressures in conjunction with substantial grants, relative to ot her states, did not move these schools on a more successful improvement trajectory than low-performi ng schools that did not receive this treatment. Qualitative data suggest that the schools la cked sustained quality support and intervention. Medium rigor, small intervention burden with a developed capacity building structure. Kentucky is an example of a state that designed its accountability system around performance-based tests with high cognitive complexity. In the 1996 to ’98 biennium, the second biennium of the systems’ existence, Kentucky entered 250 schools in to the low-performing schools program (Cibulka & Lindle, 2001). With roughly 1,200 schools in the state, this constituted more than 20% of all schools. But these schools were not necessarily acad emically failing. They had growth deficiencies, some on high absolute performance levels. Most of the 250 schools did not continue in the status. (Their exit coincided with a redesign of th e system (KDE, 2000a), making judgments of effectiveness difficult). In the 2002 accountability cycle, the state identified merely 90 schools as low performing or about 7.5% of the total (KDE, 20 00b). Only one third of those were required to accept state intervention which in Ke ntucky’s case was intensive. Compared to Kentucky, the North Carolina syst em, with growth expectations pegged to average state growth, yielded a smaller number of identified low-perf orming schools from its inception. When the state began its ABC tests in the 1996/’97 school year, 123 K–8 schools were identified (7.5% of total). A year later, that number was reduced to only 15 low-performing K–8 schools (0.9%). In subsequent years, the numbers remained low, though they rose again to 44 schools in the 1999–2000 school year, with high schools now being included. But this still constituted no more than about 2% of all schools (NCDPI, 2002). Thus, the North Carolina situation was characterized by a relatively light lo ad of low-performing schools that was consistently held low. Nevertheless, the state’s support structure was intensive. Of the state programs we surveyed, Kentucky and North Carolina had fairly elaborate systems in place that provided oversight and support to schools under direct supervision from the


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 15 state department. Services were sustained over one school year or longer, and specifically targeted to low-performing schools achieving state goals. As part of the state’s support for its schools in need of assistance Kentucky provided modest additional school improvement funds. In the 2002–2003 year, $2 million was budgeted for the 90 schools. For ex ample, elementary school grants ranged from $12,000–$38,000 per biennium. A school inspection was conducted by statesponsored Scholastic Audit Teams, which included a Highly Skilled Educator (HSE), a teacher a principal or other administrator, a parent, and a university-based educator (KDE, 2000a). The au dit teams were trained for their task. The audit teams visited each school for about a week. Once the scholastic audit was conducted, schools used the results to write their school improvement plan s. The lowest category of performers (Level III) received mandated assistance from an HSE for the entire biennium; the others received voluntary assistance. School plans were written with the help of the designated HSE and were submitted to the state department for review and approval. A state-certified person other than the HSE also conducted an evaluation of school personnel at all Level III schools. Principals at all three levels were required to participate in staff development to enhance leadership skills. HSEs had to demonstrate prior ability to bring about high levels of student performance and went through a rigorous hiring and training proce ss. Each HSE received two weeks of training and follow-up training at quarterly meetings. Mentors from the state department provided assistance in problem solving and support to HSEs. HSEs were ex pected to serve on-site at least 80% of their work time. Their activities included but were not limited to: staff development, classroom observations of instruction, demonstration lessons, grants writing, tutoring, and creation of model lessons (David et al., 2003; Holdzkom, 2001). In addition, a team of HSEs that specialized in organizational management was formed and could be assigned to more than one school at a time, given the needs of a particular school. In the 2002–2003 school year, there were 52 HSEs working with 30 Level III schools and providing support to others on a voluntary basis. Quite a bit of research has been focused on the effectiveness and impact of the HSE (or as it was previously called Distinguished Educator) program. The majority of it speaks to its success as a capacity building tool in low-performing schools. According to one study, the DE program had a significant impact on test scores and school cu lture (David et al., 2000; Holdzkom, 2001). A reported key focus of the work of the HSE was curriculum and instructional alignment to the instructionally complex state assessments. Test score data show that schools that participated in the DE/HSE program improved at a higher rate th an those that did not (Kannapel & Coe, 2000), although it is difficult to isolate the impact of HSEs in the whole school environment. Significant challenges for the program were sustaining the chan ge once HSE had left school grounds, creating an appropriate match between the HSE and the sc hool, and maintaining a strong pool of HSEs (David et al., 2000). In North Carolina, no additional funds were allo cated to low-performing schools, but these schools received intensive oversight and support. Lo w-performing schools were assigned an external assistance team made up of one administrator and three or four teachers with experience at the grade span of the school being served. Each team worked with a school for one academic year on a daily basis. The teams’ tasks were similar to the ones HSEs in Kentucky carried out. In addition, they reported to the local school board or th e state department on the school's progress. Assistance team members participated in a 4-week comprehensive training in topics similar to those in Kentucky. In addition, the assistance tea ms could participate in 2 extra weeks of training in a program specifically designed to reduce minority achievement gaps and were encouraged to go to conferences regarding specific subject areas or gr ade-level content. A team of five people working at the state level provided techni cal assistance to assistance teams. In the 2000–2001 school year, the state employed 80–85 assistance te am members and served a total of 52 schools, with 14 schools


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 16 receiving a mandated assistance team. An inquiry by the state department has revealed that assisting schools in data analysis, modeling good instruction, and aligning the schools’ curricula to state curricula and assessments was instrumental in moving schools on the path to improvement. Goals, program scale and capacity building strategies. High-quality support and oversight need to be an integral part of a low-performi ng schools program in both the school improvement and corrective action stages. The need for str ong support grows in proportion to performance demands. Some programs handle a fairly modest load of cases, stress support over sanctions, supervise this support centrally, and manage r ecruitment and training of personnel and quality control of services. Services are geared toward the comprehensive reform of schools with a focus on the state’s managerial requirements and performa nce goals. The low-performing schools program operates in the context of an accountability system with modestly complex performance demands and a high level of guidance by way of a state co re curriculum. But at the same time, on-site support providers adapt their intervention to individual school needs, though curriculum and instructional alignment are key points of intervention. We saw su ch patterns most clearly in the programs from the small states of Kentucky and North Carolina. A program design that places demands fo r high instructional complexity on schools, identifies rock-bottom performers with very low or ganizational capacity to begin with, establishes a high exit threshold, and leaves it up to (overburdened) districts to provide necessary capacity building runs into trouble even when it keeps the statewide load of identified schools fairly small. We saw tendencies of such a pattern in the orig inal Maryland program where very few schools indeed have been exiting the system successfully. A program design that identifies large numb ers of below-average schools on the basis of a set performance ceiling and fixed growth expectati ons; stresses grant making over accountability; leaves it up to districts to provide capacity bu ilding, but does not make these districts direct recipients of accountability measures; relies on a network of external consultants for evaluation and intervention, but has a very weak management structu re at the state level in place that could assure quality of services; such a design runs into trouble. We saw tendencies of such a pattern in the implementation of the California accountability syst em. Indeed only about a fourth of the first cohort of identified schools met the state’s origina lly stated expectations, and overall the program showed no effect on test scores over 3 years. If past accounts of educational reform are an indication, provision of money, even generous gr ants, without a clear focus on goals and strategies to achieve them will not be very effective. By contrast, Texas is an example of a system that refrains from grant making, compels districts into action through strong district accountability and augments with generic regional services, but this rather austere model of capaci ty building functions in the context of modest and flexible performance demands. The problem with such a system, however, is that it may encourage teaching to a cognitively basic test in highly pressured schools. Whether support and oversight is provided di rectly by the state or through third-party consultants, low-performing schools programs need a management structure that allows for careful recruitment and quality control of service providers. Compared to some of the first-generation accountability systems, the heavy emphasis of NCLB on intervention in the first 3 years of a school’s identification highlights the importance of effective and focused intervention, especially when coupled with ambitious performance goals. Even low-performing schools programs on a small scale designed for the first stage of school improvement required elaborate capacity building structures. For the corrective action stage, these requirements increase manifold.


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 17 A Comprehensive Set of Strategies Seems Promising If there is one characteristic that stands out from systems that keep the number of low performing schools low and make a consistent differe nce in their lowest performing schools, it is comprehensiveness. For example, Florida uses a comprehensive approach to corrective action schools that includes professional development, instructional support, work on test preparation, help with assessment, extended school days, and parent in-services.15 In Kentucky, intervention starts off with a comprehensive week-long scholasti c audit based on 9 standards and 88 indicators. Highly Skilled Educators (HSEs) are assigned to schools and expected to be on-site at least 80% of the time during their two years at the school. David et al. found that HSEs’ activities are “remarkably similar across the sample schools” (2003, p. 10). They fall into the following categories: professional development, curriculum alignment, cl assroom instruction, test preparation, leadership, school organization and decision-making, and resource procurement. These categories are similar to those used in the Scholastic Audit. North Carolin a uses a similarly encompassing approach. When intervention teams enter the school, they evaluate all educators in the school and can recommend dismissing anyone who does not improve at the end of the year (SERVE, 2001). Among other things, they conduct classroom observations, work closely with principals, conduct model lessons, and streamline budgets. The schools are required to implement the team’s corrective actions. Team members participate in a 4-week training on data an alysis, cultural diversity, curriculum alignment, teacher performance and evaluation, and team building (Holdzkom, 2001). The Chancellor’s District in New York City, emulated by other inner-city districts, was a similarly comprehensive approach to persistentl y low-testing schools, but added to the mix a supportive district structure that acted as a surrogate for schools’ dysfunctional home district (Snipes, Doolittle, & Herlihy, 2002). Intervention in the special district consisted of the following elements (Phenix, Siegel, Zaltsman, & Fruchter, 20 05): reduced class size; extended school day and year; after-school programs; mandated instructional programs, schedules, and curricula; prescribed professional development, with at least four on-site staff developers; extra time; a teacher center and teacher specialist assigned to each school; st udent assessments; supervisory/district support; restaffing and replacement of most principals and many ineffective teachers; more intense monitoring and mentoring ; and incentives for r ecruiting qualified teacher s (e.g., signing bonuses). Researchers and interviewed program administrators point to two factors that in their minds made a key difference: the special district removed a school from a failing district and put it in a very nurturing one, and a comprehensive set of orga nizational, curricular, instructional and personnel interventions were given to schools as a bundle, avoi ding isolated quick fixes (Phenix et al., 2005). However, even with this intense intervention, pr eliminary data suggest that Chancellor’s District schools achieved only moderate improvement in student performance; only half of the enrolled schools were removed from the state list of low-perf orming schools; and one-fifth had to be closed. Yet, overall fourth graders in the special distri ct outperformed SURR schools in reading, i.e. those schools enrolled in the state’s low-performing sch ools program, even when controlling for student and school characteristics, teacher resources and per student expenditures (Phenix et al., 2005). In summary, it appears that comprehensiveness is a key characteristic that makes interventions sufficiently different from all the othe r things that schools have tried before and that makes corrective action programs effective. Compreh ensiveness includes interventions at the school 15 For more descriptions of Florida’s accountab ility system, see SERVE (2001) and the Florida Department of Education’s Bureau of School Improvement website at


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 18 and district levels. But even these comprehens ive approaches cannot overcome some of the performance barriers that exist in the highestneed and lowest-capacity schools and districts. Relationship-Building Needs to Complement Powerful Programs Many low-performing schools are not attractive work places, and under current labor market conditions, low-performing schools are often sta ffed with lower-skilled teachers and large numbers of new, insufficiently trained teachers with low commitment to stay (Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2002). Principal turnover is high as well. Princi pals under pressure of accountability often act as conduits of pressure, making for unsupportive working relationships between teachers and administration (LeCompte & Dworkin, 1991). Mintr op found that in schools improving in the lowperforming schools program principal leadership and faculty collegiality and cohesion as well as trust in the skills of colleagues were stronger (Mintr op, 2004). Bryk and Schneider point to the importance of trust among administrators, teach ers, and parents as a key resource for school improvement (Bryk & Schneider, 2002). O’Day (2004) found that initial capacity was a key factor in explaining why some schools improved when ta rgeted by low-performing schools programs and others did not. Elementary schools with higher “peer collaboration, teacher-teacher trust, and collective responsibility for student learning” responded more favorably (p. 26). Creation, or “renewal of teachers’ commitment to the school,” is one of the most salient issues a school needs to address, according to an English report that summarizes insights from inspection reports on 900 schools “under special measures,” the English equi valent to schools under corrective action (Gray, 2000, p. 20). Under corrective action, districts and states in tervene deeply into the core of a school’s operation, often mandating specific programs an d prescribing specific operations that can be monitored fairly easily. Implementation of effective programs is desirable and especially necessary when schools are staffed with many insufficien tly qualified teachers. Under the pressures of corrective action, however, such implementation raises the specter of compliance, managerial control, and programmatic standardization as the ma in levers of school improvement. Following the lead of the above cited literature, implementati on of powerful programs ought not come at the expense of developing professional norms of hi gh expectations and trusting relationships. Such norms are not only necessary for teachers to colle ctively assume responsibility for student learning, but are important in fostering and maintaining teacher commitment to stay. Moreover, if the capacity of individuals to interact with and rely on each other is a key ingredient for schools to respond positively to performance challenges, then interventions that incorporate work on internal organizational norms and building trust may be a good way to improve on that front. Governance changes, for example the installa tion of an EMO, are often accompanied by heightened political conflict around new relationships of authority and may lead to a decline in social stability.16 Redesigns have the potential of actually di minishing a school’s social capacity (Malen et al., 2002). Intervention strategies need to compen sate for these negative consequences of social disruption. Thus, corrective action and redesign strategies need to create a balanced effect on instructional programs, educators’ professional norms of performance, commitment to stay in the low-performing school, and trust among school acto rs. Such balance is apt to stabilize the lowperforming school. 16 For analyses of how EMO management was associated with the social instability of Philadelphia schools, see Neild and Spiridakis (2002) and Neild at al. (2003).


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 19 Competence Reduces Conflict When schools enter the stage of corrective action, they are no longer able to heal themselves and improve solely based on their own internal streng ths. Rather, they are in need of external change agents who can provide new tools, such as programs coaching, advice, and facilitation. While in the first stage of school improvement, state pressure and the signaling of urgency may increase schools’ motivation to marshal their own forces; in the corrective action stage pressure takes a back seat to capacity building. Something essential needs to be added to a school under corrective action that it previously lacked. We argued earlier that this “s omething” is not an isolated quick fix (e.g., a program, a governance change, a principal change, etc. ), but a set of strategies that comprehensively integrates the technical and social layers of the organization. To provide such a collection of strategies with sufficient high quality requires the careful recruitment of highly skilled intervention personne l. This is a key challenge for all systems we examined. Supply of high quality personnel is a theme that runs through many reports and interviews, regardless of the specific models or structures that are implemented.17 In California, schools complained about a lack of powerful expe rtise on the part of the state’s new school intervention teams (Posnick-Goodwin, 2003). In Philadelphia, the strength of district or EMObased restructuring seems to rely on the ability of the entity in charge to recruit skillful and committed educators (principals, teachers, staff developers, instructional specialists, etc.) to the schools. Where they fail to do so, or are not empower ed to do so by regulations as in Philadelphia, the effort may be undermined irrespective of the specific governance structure. The uneven service quality of third-party con sultants in a number of systems was already mentioned. North Carolina and Kentucky recruit school practitioners with a track record of leadership in their schools and districts in order to insure proximity to the people that need to be reached by interventions. It has been a challenge for Kentucky to find e nough highly qualified candidates for the job of Highly Skilled Educator yea r after year, as previous cohorts return to their districts. The shortage of educators with these sk ills is evident in the frequent complaint from districts that HSEs are sorely missed in the di strict’s own operations (David et al., 2003). When external interveners enter schools wit hout a strong base of competence, problems arise. Schools complain of serving two masters (B lanc, 2003; Bulkley, Mundell, & Riffer, 2004). Traditional lines of authority are more likely to clash with new ones, for example state-empowered external interveners, when new authority is not backed up and legitimized by new ideas, new capacities, or new services that promise to be a benefit to the school.18 In other words, before states (or districts) decide to send new intervention tea ms, external partners, EMOs, etc. as authoritative executors of corrective action into persistently lo w-performing schools, th ey should be sure about the providers’ potential to offer comprehensive se rvices with competence. These services need to make a marked difference in schools that in ma ny instances “have tried it all before.” Strong State Commitment Is Need ed to Create System Capacity Corrective action and school redesign cannot be done on the cheap. We know from firstgeneration accountability systems that merely ma ndating new programs, subjecting a school to zero17 Some examples of this theme include the experiences in Chic ago (Hess, 2003) and Philadelphia (Neild & Spiridakis, 2002; Neild et al., 2003). 18 For examples where external agents conflict with traditional lines of aut hority, see Garland (2003) and Posnick-Goodwin (2003).


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 20 based staffing as in reconstitution, pairing it up with external consultants, or passing it on to new management will not be sufficient for those persis tently low-performing schools that have high needs and low capacity to begin with (Mintrop & Papazian, 2003). Successful states and districts show that highly competent personnel and comp rehensive intervention capacity are not readily available and have to be developed over time. Particularly, corrective action in district administrations seems to be virgin territory for many states. As NCLB implementation progresses through the stages of corrective action and school redesign, more schools and districts will have to be targeted and states’ efforts need to grow. But recent fiscal problems in many states and districts make a vigorous state effort doubtful (Richard, 2004). Comprehensive programs (f or example, New York’s Chancello r’s District, Kentucky’s Highly Skilled Educators program, and North Carolina’s A ssistance Team program) have seen cuts. Some states have stopped expanding their programs or re trenched (such as California). Poorer states, such as Mississippi or Alabama, have been unable to pay for assistance to all of their highest-need schools, let alone pay for the development of a school improvement infrastructure that NCLB implementation will require. The gap between what is federally required for successful corrective action and redesign and what states are able or willing to offer at this point is large in many instances. New ways of financing systems’ ca pacity for providing comp rehensive and highly competent interventions need to be found. Conclusion The eight lessons learned from first-generation accountability systems can be condensed into one final lesson for the implementation of NCLB. First-generation attempts have shown that the task of continuous school improvement requires a sophisticated school improvement infrastructure of high quality that comprehensively ‘moves on a ll fronts’ and goes beyond incentives, sanctions, and even additional grants for capacity building. Yet, NCLB has magnified the challenge even further. The more stringent corrective action requi rements of the law are likely to create larger intervention burdens for states than many of the previous systems examined in this paper.19 The high-stakes features of the law have been called bold by supporters and draconian by detractors. But compared to the enormous challenges of the task we conclude from our data on first-generation accountability systems that even the law’s presum ably rigorous corrective action features tinker on the margins. The corrective action incentives an d sanctions no doubt can cause movement among responsible actors on all levels of the system. But if the law is implemented in the tradition of procedural compliance, it will produce much comm otion and comparatively little improvement. The enormity of the task at hand requires the federal government, states, districts, and schools to go far beyond NCLB and proactively search for powerful, high quality and comprehensive ways of reform and institution rebuilding. Alternatively, states could reduce testing rigor or keep rigor down. As demands are pegged to existing capacities, a pressure strategy seem s more promising and intensive (and expensive) capacity building expendable. Basic literacy and nume racy may rise in such a system by limiting and committing schools in the lower performing spectrum to cognitively simple instruction (at least in the short or medium time frame). First-generation systems such as the ones in Maryland and California show that ambitious performance go als without a well-structured and well-supported capacity building strategy create ineffective lowperforming schools programs with undesirable political consequences. Conversely, a system that ba nks on pressures to teach to a cognitively simple 19 For more on this topic, see Mintrop and Papazian (2003)


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 21 test may confront us with the undesirable trade-off between the ends of achieving basic literacy and numeracy by means of severely curtailing the spect rum of educational goals. Accountability systems designed in the medium range of cognitive co mplexity with modest pressures and reasonably elaborate capacity building structures may be a good start.


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Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 27 About the Authors Heinrich Mintrop University of California, Berkeley Email: Heinrich Mintrop taught middle school and high sc hool for over a decade in both the United States and Germany before he entered in to his academic career. He received a Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University (1996). He is currently an associate professor of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. As a rese archer, he explores issues of school improvement and accountability in both their academic and civic dimensions. He has recently published the book Schools on Probation: How Accountab ility Works (and Doesn’t Work), at Teachers College Press. At UC Berkeley, he is involved in the Principal Leadership Institute that aims to prepare strong leaders for high-need urban schools. Tina M. Trujillo University of California, Los Angeles Email: Tina Trujillo is a doctoral student in Urban Schooling at the University of California, Los Angeles, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Her current research interests include systemic district instructional reforms and low-performing schools’ responses to high-stakes accountability policies.


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 28 EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES Editor: Sherman Dorn, University of South Florida Production Assistant: Chris Murre ll, Arizona State University General questions about ap propriateness of topics or particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Sherman Dorn, Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin David C. Berliner Arizona State University Greg Camilli Rutgers University Casey Cobb University of Connecticut Linda Darling-Hammond Stanford University Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Gustavo E. Fischman Arizona State Univeristy Richard Garlikov Birmingham, Alabama Gene V Glass Arizona State University Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Aimee Howley Ohio University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Ontario Institute of Technology Patricia Fey Jarvis Seattle, Washington Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Green Mountain College Les McLean University of Toronto Heinrich Mintrop University of California, Berkeley Michele Moses Arizona State University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Michael Scriven Western Michigan University Terrence G. Wiley Arizona State University John Willinsky University of British Columbia


Corrective Action in Low-Performing Schools 29 EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES English-language Graduate -Student Editorial Board Noga Admon New York University Jessica Allen University of Colorado Cheryl Aman University of British Columbia Anne Black University of Connecticut Marisa Burian-Fitzgerald Michigan State University Chad d'Entremont Teachers College Columbia University Carol Da Silva Harvard University Tara Donahue Michigan State University Camille Farrington University of Illinois Chicago Chris Frey Indiana University Amy Garrett Dikkers University of Minnesota Misty Ginicola Yale University Jake Gross Indiana University Hee Kyung Hong Loyola University Chicago Jennifer Lloyd University of British Columbia Heather Lord Yale University Shereeza Mohammed Florida Atlantic University Ben Superfine University of Michigan John Weathers University of Pennsylvania Kyo Yamashiro University of California Los Angeles


Education Policy Analysis Archives Vol. 13 No. 48 30 Archivos Analticos de Polticas Educativas Associate Editors Gustavo E. Fischman & Pablo Gentili Arizona State University & Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro Founding Associate Editor for Spanish Language (1998—2003) Roberto Rodrguez Gmez Editorial Board Hugo Aboites Universidad Autnoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco Adrin Acosta Universidad de Guadalajara Mxico Claudio Almonacid Avila Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educacin, Chile Dalila Andrade de Oliveira Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brasil Alejandra Birgin Ministerio de Educacin, Argentina Teresa Bracho Centro de Investigacin y Docencia Econmica-CIDE Alejandro Canales Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico Ursula Casanova Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona Sigfredo Chiroque Instituto de Pedagoga Popular, Per Erwin Epstein Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois Mariano Fernndez Enguita Universidad de Salamanca. Espaa Gaudncio Frigotto Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil Rollin Kent Universidad Autnoma de Puebla. Puebla, Mxico Walter Kohan Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil Roberto Leher Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro, Brasil Daniel C. Levy University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, New York Nilma Limo Gomes Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte Pia Lindquist Wong California State University, Sacramento, California Mara Loreto Egaa Programa Interdisciplinario de Investigacin en Educacin Mariano Narodowski Universidad To rcuato Di Tella, Argentina Iolanda de Oliveira Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brasil Grover Pango Foro Latinoamericano de Polticas Educativas, Per Vanilda Paiva Universidade Estadual Do Rio De Janeiro, Brasil Miguel Pereira Catedratico Un iversidad de Granada, Espaa Angel Ignacio Prez Gmez Universidad de Mlaga Mnica Pini Universidad Nacional de San Martin, Argentina Romualdo Portella do Oliveira Universidade de So Paulo Diana Rhoten Social Science Research Council, New York, New York Jos Gimeno Sacristn Universidad de Valencia, Espaa Daniel Schugurensky Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Canada Susan Street Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social Occidente, Guadalajara, Mxico Nelly P. Stromquist University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California Daniel Suarez Laboratorio de Politicas Publicas-Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina Antonio Teodoro Universidade Lusfona Lisboa, Carlos A. Torres UCLA Jurjo Torres Santom Universidad de la Corua, Espaa