New Monograph – State-Initiated School Turnaround Strategies: Leveraging the State Education Agency to Drive Meaningful Change (Rhim)

Executive Summary Excerpt

State-Initiated School Turnaround Strategies

Turning around low-performing schools remains a persistent challenge for education policymakers and practitioners. Because the factors that contribute to low performance are multifaceted, elective and sustainable solutions must address not only a wide array of systemic issues, but must also focus on specific practices within individual schools. To be successful and sustainable, these efforts must engage local districts and broader state education systems. In partnership with the University of Virginia (UVA), Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE) School Turnaround Specialist Program (STSP), eight states have implemented a strategy entailing the State Education Agencies (SEAs) assuming a leadership role to drive, manage, and support a targeted approach to turning around low-performing schools—a model which continues to evolve…

This monograph presents findings from an analysis, sponsored by the PLE, that examined eight states’ approaches to initiating a turnaround model and identified lessons learned to inform future practice for the PLE and for the field. While this analysis focuses on states that directly collaborated with the PLE, the emerging lessons have implications for any state interested in more proactively implementing and supporting targeted school turnaround efforts. As SEAs assume a more significant role in school reform under initiatives such as the federal Race to the Top, the School Improvement Grant program, and Elementary and Secondary Education Act Flexibility Waivers, findings from these states’ turnaround work can hone the efficacy of future efforts

Four key themes emerged from interviews with state, regional, district, and school personnel actively engaged in school turnaround efforts in Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah:

  1. State education agencies can align resources, structures, and support systems to compel action at the local level.
  2. District ownership and school-level buy-in is critical to success.
  3. Intermediary and external entities introduce a breadth and depth of expertise, which can be critical to building capacity.
  4. Intentionally identifying qualified school leaders and holding them accountable for meeting high expectations is the fuel that drives school turnaround.

About the Author


Lauren Morando Rhim is president of LMR Consulting, an education policy, research, and evaluation consulting firm dedicated to leveraging research to inform practice in K–12 education. She consults with state departments of education, school districts, and nonprofits committed to creating high quality public schools for all students. A significant portion of her research, technical assistance, and writing focuses on characteristics of successful school turnarounds. She provides strategic program development, leads research inquiries, and conducts site visits for the University of Virginia’s School Turnaround Specialist Program. She is also a strategic partner and member of the leadership team of the Center on School Turnaround based at WestEd.