Great Lakes Center for Education, Research & Practice: Report provides very little useful guidance to assist low-performing schools, review finds

Gail L. Sunderman, (301) 405-3572, [email protected]

Daniel J. Quinn, (517) 203-2940, [email protected]

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Jun. 13, 2017) — A recent report published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Cities sought to provide a “how-to-guide” for education reform advocates seeking to influence states’ use of Title I school improvement funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The report identified three prominent school reform models for school improvement, which remove communities’ democratic control over their schools. An academic review of the report finds that the report omits research that sheds light on the three models, and fails to take into account the opportunity costs of pursuing one set of policies over another.

Gail L. Sunderman, University of Maryland, reviewed the report, Leveraging ESSA to Support Quality-School Growth, for the Think Twice think tank review project. Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), is funded in part by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The report pursued how city- and state-based stakeholders could influence states’ use of Title I school improvement funds. The three models recommended were: (1) expanding charter schools; (2) creating state turnaround districts; and (3) the use of state-led, district based solutions, which remove the powers of superintendents and school boards and vests that authority in a single individual.

Despite acknowledging the lack of research evidence on the effectiveness of the three recommended reforms, the report attempts to use a few exceptional cases to explain how advocates should influence state ESSA plans. In fact, the reviewer notes that report actually cites research showing the limitations of the suggested reform models.

Sunderman’s review finds the report’s use of research literature to be selective, with no peer-reviewed journal articles included. Many of the cited references were from other advocacy pieces. Further, she finds the support of the effectiveness behind the three approaches is simply too limited to present them as promising school improvement strategies.

In her conclusion, she states: “Policymakers, educators and state education administrators should be wary of relying on this report — or Education Cities members who use it — as a source of information that can guide them as they develop their state improvement plans.”

Find the review on the GLC website:

Find the original report on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website: