District Partner 2014-2015
ERS partnered with the New York State Education Department (NYSED) in a two-pronged project: working directly with a cohort of eight districts to analyze key resource data and help them improve how they use people, time, and money to increase student achievement; and presenting findings and recommendations to a NYSED steering committee, highlighting how the state can shift from a compliance watchdog to a strategic partner to districts.
"These exercises with data have opened our eyes. If we're looking at data-driven instruction in the classroom, we need to look at data-driven scheduling as well"
- Superintendent from New York State
NYSED serves 2.7 million students across a wide variety of districts, from small rural towns to the largest school system in the country. It has relatively high per-pupil spending, but is also facing constraints in the state education budget. As New York State transitions to Common Core-aligned standards, NYSED wants to ensure that all of its districts are prepared to use their resources in the most effective way to increase student achievement.
- Conducted a modified Strategic Resource Map and supported strategic planning in eight school districts, through:
- Exercises and assessments: Facilitated a session of School Budget Hold’em, an interactive exercise that allows districts to compare the strategic benefits of various savings and investments; also offered a School System 20/20 “policies and practices” diagnostic assessment.
- Data analysis: Analyzed budget, staffing, course schedule, and student data to provide insight and recommendations on policies and practices related to:
- School Design
- Human Capital
- Workshops and networking: Facilitated several workshops where cohort districts considered key findings and learned about new ways to use their resources for student success, drawn from best practice research and ERS’ experience.
- Strategic planning support: Help districts craft a final action plan that aligns their limited resources—people, time, technology, and money—to their students’ needs and goals, based on what they learned in the Strategic Resource Map and ERS trainings throughout the year.
- Data Analysis: Identified trends in the data across all eight districts, to extrapolate general themes that may apply statewide.
- Policy recommendations: Created six policy memos with recommendations for how NYSED can help districts use resources more strategically across the state, including collecting and providing better data to help districts make decisions, changing reimbursement formulas to incentivize innovation, and looking at the competitiveness of regional service providers.
Findings and Outcomes
- Findings from the resource analysis: Our review of budget, staffing, course scheduling, and student data across the eight districts highlighted the following:
- On average, NYS districts spend more per pupil than a set of comparison benchmark districts, and that extra seems to go toward items like additional school-based staff, higher special education identification rates, and paying teachers for non-instructional time such as duty periods.
- This does not mean that NY districts necessarily have too many staff or too much time off; rather it is the beginning of a discussion about how to take advantage of the available staff to increase student learning.
- District strategic action plans: Inspired by the data they received and the workshops they attended, each of the eight cohort districts is planning to make significant changes to how they use resources. For example:
- Six districts have committed to increasing their investment in expert-led collaborative planning time and job-embedded professional growth. This means that teachers will have more access to teacher and content coaches, more time to collaborate, and more opportunities to grow in a way that’s integrated with their job—not in one-off workshops.
- Two districts are examining staffing and models of service for special education, to ensure effective instruction.
- Two districts are making improvements to their scheduling processes to ensure that students get the right amount of time in a subject to meet their academic needs.
- One district, Tioga Central School District, operates on an extremely tight budget. It therefore chose a cost-neutral option: Tioga will reduce the number of 2nd grade classrooms from four to three, and have the fourth teacher “push in” to all classes at key moments. This allows for greater personalized attention when students need it, and a schedule with more collaborative planning time and more teacher specialization in different subjects for easier preps.
- Statewide shifts: Drawing from the data presented, ERS’ experience with districts and states, and best practices from the research literature, ERS recommended that NYSED consider promoting three fundamental shifts in the way districts use resources:
- Toward more “job-embedded” professional development for teachers—that is, rooted in teaching teams and coaching relationships, responsive to what teachers are facing in the moment.
- Toward more personalized learning through creating school schedules and student groupings that ensure students have the time and personal attention they need to succeed.
- Toward a world where the state acts as strategic partner to districts—using its power to share data, convene networks of peers, and set policies to encourage cost-effectiveness and innovation.
- State policy recommendations: ERS identified many recommendations for how the state can foster these three shifts. These include:
- Removing policies that inhibit innovation: For example, the state could examine “seat time” requirements (i.e., where students are required to log a certain number of hours to pass a class), in favor of “progress upon mastery” systems that let students move through coursework at their own pace.
- Revamping state reimbursement policies to encourage innovation: NYSED’s current transportation reimbursement policy does not encourage districts to innovate. Small changes could encourage greater regional cooperation and efficiency.
- Offering data to support local decision making: The state currently collects a lot of data for compliance purposes. The state is thus well positioned to create and share benchmark metrics that can help districts make decisions and choose new strategies, rather than just ensure compliance. For example, the state can draw on its staffing and course schedule data to report back to districts on statewide staffing ratios, or how much time struggling students receive for remediation and support.
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