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Looking Back, Looking Forward at ERS

A review of the highlights of 2013, and plans for 2014

2014 will mark our first decade as an organization. I have always been passionate about our work, but it feels like we have reached new levels with the transformation that urban districts are undertaking to help children succeed through reorganizing people, time, and money.

In 2004, we had just three employees, and we worked with one district at a time. This past year we supported hundreds of districts with a combination of deep and lighter touch support. We launched School System 20/20, our vision and set of tools to help school systems transform, which is already inspiring and supporting a rapidly growing network of district leaders. In 2014, we will launch more in-depth research to document how districts are making these bold changes, a new publication series focused on common opportunities to restructure resources, and more tools to empower district leaders.

We couldn’t have come so far without our partners: you show us what it’s like on the ground, challenge our assumptions, provide support, and make connections. Join us in celebrating the transformational changes that took place in 2013, and the projects to come in our tenth year:

  • Progress in Cleveland: The Cleveland Metropolitan School District took a big step toward their new portfolio model, in which principals will make more decisions over how to use their people, time, and money. As a part of the Transformation Schools Pilot, ERS helped nine school leaders plan for strategic school designs that reshape the school day to work better for students; at the same time, we worked with the central office to learn how best to support schools. We supported CMSD in their development of a new Student-Based Budgeting formula, including gathering a group of principals to recommend key components. And CMSD used our School Budget Hold’em tool in the context of this year’s very successful teacher contract negotiations.
  • Expanded work with states: We had the privilege to work more deeply with state education agencies, including in Georgia, Tennessee, and Michigan. We supported the Tennessee Department of Education as it helped all 136 school districts revise their teacher compensation models. At the end of our two-year Georgia partnership, the five districts we worked with closely are enacting transformational strategies such as differentiating professional development based on teacher needs and implementing flexible scheduling. We also worked with the state on how to offer flexibility to districts and collect the most important data. We provided resources and training for Michigan State University Specialists who work with struggling districts across Michigan, and were thrilled to hear the story of one district we would never have reached on our own, Bath Community Schools, which used Resource Check to identify new ways to use their resources for student success.
  • New teacher compensation and "professional growth and support" resources: This year, we released a suite of tools and case studies focused on improving teaching quality, beginning with the teaching “value proposition”: the whole package of what school systems offer teachers, from compensation through support for their professional growth. Resources ranged from the interactive Teacher Compensation Workshop to the action-oriented brief First Steps: What School Systems Can Do To Reform Teacher Compensation and Career Path Right Now, to the Professional Growth & Support case studies that profiled promising practices in professional development, and the Professional Growth & Support Self-Assessment to help districts identify gaps and new strategies.
  • Service on national and state-based reform commissions: I had the privilege of serving on two extraordinary commissions which tackled big issues in education reform. The federal Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission published “For Each and Every Child,” which examined school finance, recommending that districts provide “equitable and sufficient” funding for every student, which may mean “more than equal investment” when it comes to children of high need. The Commission’s report also included the important concept that it’s not just about how much schools have, but how it is used. The New York State Education Reform Commission also took a comprehensive look at education reform in the state, producing an Education Action Plan in January 2013 that provides more detailed information on resource use and the key drivers of spending.
  • Refinement of our tools: School Budget Hold’em has now reached over 8,000 people, and it really took off this year with groups as diverse Citizen Schools and LEAD Connecticut welcoming ERS staff to facilitate. We updated DREAM with the most recent NCES data to help users create better school resource models, and added targeted modules to the online self-assessment, Resource Check, focused on Teaching, School Design, Funding and Turnaround.
  • Launch of the new ERStrategies.org and School System 20/20 website: Our new website is organized around our School System 20/20 frameworks and showcases more examples of districts making change. We hope you have had a chance to read One Vision, Seven Strategies, watch the Transform Now! video (now with over 2,000 views) or share an inspiring District Story with a colleague. We were thrilled to see Spare Change: Smarter District Resource Use for Transformational Schools included in a new publication on the future of Milwaukee schools; to publish Four Questions Every New Superintendent Should Ask in Education Week; and chronicle the success of PLCs and time for struggling students at Georgia’s Vidalia City Schools in a new video.
  • Support from national and local philanthropies: We could not have done any of this work without the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Noyce Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, and The George Gund Foundation. In 2013, we were so humbled to continue our relationship by receiving $1.5 million from Carnegie Corporation and $2.25 million from Noyce Foundation, with a potential for $2.25 million more contingent on matching funds. This will allow us to create tools and training to support innovative school design as well as pursue research into how different resource strategies affect student outcomes. Additionally, we were honored to receive grants from the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation and Houston Endowment to pursue important state and district-based work.

Now, we’re looking forward to continuing the School System 20/20 momentum in 2014. Here are some projects currently on the docket:

  • Partnerships with districts like Charlotte, Boston, Aldine, and more: We’ve already begun some fascinating and promising projects on strategic school design, school-based autonomies, teacher compensation, and re-envisioning resource use to take a school district to the next level. In these partnerships, we will work with districts that are already innovating, to see what the next stage of reform looks like.
  • New publications to help districts reach School System 20/20: We have already planned several publications for the new year, that we hope will help state and district leaders rethink how to use their limited resources for student success, including:
    • How to free resources to support Common Core implementation
    • How to adapt a “return-on-investment” approach to the education context
    • A series of briefs that identify common “resource misalignments” which present opportunities to use resources in more effective way
    • A guide to “Student-Based Budgeting” (sometimes called Weighted Student Funding), including what questions to ask if your district is considering this new funding model
  • New school design tools: In 2014 we will publicaly release the “School Designer” tool for Elementary Schools. With School Designer, users can design their own school day to give students individual attention, extend the reach of effective teachers, and ensure collaborative planning time. The tool also helps users model how to effectively allocate resources to create these new designs.

As always, we could not do this work without the support of our many partners in the reform challenge, including Teach Plus, America Achieves, Council of the Great City Schools, The Aspen Institute, the Policy Innovators in Education Network, Public Impact, the Harvard Strategic Data Project, the Association of School Business Officials, Citizen Schools, the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy, the National Center on Time and Learning, and The Council of Chief State School Officers, as well as all the district, state, and local leaders with whom we work every day.

In 2014, we hope to build the School System 20/20 community. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn; subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates. We cannot do the work of transformational reform alone.

Thank you for being with us, and we look forward to the new year,

Karen Hawley Miles

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