Feb 2, 2010 4:22 PM by Greg Boyce

Colorado one of six states involved in education program

Colorado Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones announced Tuesday that Colorado will participate in a three-year, $75 million public-private partnership designed to bring sustainable strategies to turning around low-performing schools. The partnership is with Mass Insight Education & Research Institute, the non-profit organization that published the 2007 report, "The Turnaround Challenge."  Colorado will be one of six partner states in the effort along with Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York.

"The partnership with Mass Insight will do two things that are important in this very challenging work," said Commissioner Jones. "First, it will bring a significant increase in resources. Second, the Partnership Zone approach will help districts and schools make sound decisions and build plans to sustain changes after the initial three years of work. The Mass Insight model plans for success and manages resources for maximum impact. These are fundamental changes targeted at interrupting the cycle of under-performance."  Commissioner Jones said the Mass Insight work will be conducted in harmony with districts and schools. "We are very excited about this innovative approach," he added.

Planning and development for the Partnership Zone Initiative is being funded with a $1.5 million, two-year grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, along with a partial match from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mass Insight and its partners are planning to raise an additional $30 million of private funding for the three-year initial program and further funding for a two-year extension to match $45 million of school-level public funding. Public funds will through federal School Improvement Grants and, if Colorado's application is successful, through the competitive Race to the Top grant process.

Commissioner Jones noted that Colorado's education policy is well-positioned for the Partnership Zone work. The Innovation Schools Act (S.B. 08-130) allows schools to seek greater autonomy and flexibility in academic and operational decision-making. The law provides a means for schools and districts to gain waivers from state laws and collective bargaining agreements in order to implement needed reforms and it also allows a local school board to initiate work with one or more schools in the district to create innovation plans or innovation school zones.

In its 2007 report, "The Turnaround Challenge," Mass Insight found that a small but growing number of high-performing, high-poverty schools are demonstrating that the presence of key design elements can bring highly challenged student populations to high achievement.  "Lessons from these schools," the report states, "indicate a need for the following elements in any school turnaround effort-all of which reflect characteristics that are not norms, broadly speaking, of traditional inside-the-system public schooling:

  • Clearly defined authority to act based on what's best for children and learning-i.e., flexibility and control over staffing, scheduling, budget and curriculum.
  • Relentless focus on hiring and staff development as part of an overall "people strategy" to ensure the best possible teaching force.
  • Highly capable, distributed school leadership-i.e., not simply the principal, but an effective leadership team.
  • Additional time in the school day and across the school year.
  • Performance-based behavioral expectations for all stakeholders including teachers, students and (often) parents.
  • Integrated, research-based programs and related social services that are specifically designed, personalized and adjusted to address students' academic and related psycho-social needs.



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