An opinion piece in today's Los Angeles Times lauds the Long Beach Unified School District and four other school systems nationwide for implementing common-sense reforms.
"While the Obama administration, with its federal Race to the Top program, is setting up a host of new rules for schools, five large urban school districts have raised achievement and closed achievement gaps using approaches that make such obvious sense, it would amaze parents to know that these aren't the norm everywhere," writes Heather Zavadsky, author of "Bringing School Reform to Scale: Five Award-Winning Urban Districts," published this year by Harvard Education Press.
Zavadsky's observation is one reason that the Long Beach Unified School District played a leading role in crafting California's latest application for federal Race to the Top school funding last month, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state education officials signed the federal funding application during a ceremony at Long Beach's Lafayette Elementary School.
In today's Los Angeles Times piece titled "Closing Schools' Achievement Gaps," Zavadsky describes specific district-wide reform strategies that led these school systems to become top-five finalists for the national Broad Prize for Urban Education (Long Beach earned this honor five times). These award-winning school districts outpace their peers in raising student achievement - not just in individual schools - but in numerous schools district-wide. Zavadsky closely observed each of the five school systems when she helped to select the winners. That included visiting schools, analyzing test data and other statistics, and conducting follow-up interviews with teachers and parents.
The annual $2 million Broad Prize honors the five large urban school districts that demonstrate the strongest student achievement and improvement while narrowing achievement gaps between income and ethnic groups.
Two of the five districts lauded by Zavadsky are in Southern California - Long Beach and Garden Grove. The others are Boston Public Schools, Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia and the Aldine Independent School District outside Houston. Zavadsky is director of policy and communication for the Institute for Public School Initiatives at the University of Texas.
All of the five school districts developed a challenging, clear and specific curriculum, Zavadsky observed. The districts set no more than six long-term goals centered on improving achievement in basic subjects, rather than continually changing goals, and they "developed smart strategies to attract and retain effective teachers, support them and cultivate a collaborative working environment," the Times piece states. The five school systems asked staff to evaluate regularly whether each approach or program was improving achievement. These districts used data to select, pilot and monitor programs, and eliminate those that weren't working.
Zavadsky also notes that leaders in these school systems have successfully built relationships with parents, community organizations, area businesses and others who have a stake in student success.
The Los Angeles Times is the nation's fourth largest newspaper.