The Future of School System 20/20 and the Lawrence Case Study

Improving urban education is immensely complicated.

Today, school systems are asked to reach ever higher standards for college and career readiness with limited resources, in support of students with higher needs. And often, they struggle to meet these 21st century demands with structures and practices that belong in the 20th century.

Though there are numerous stories of individual school successes, scaling these efforts has proven elusive. For the past 10 years, we at Education Resource Strategies (ERS) have worked with districts to go beyond fixing the problem one school at a time. We believe we need to change school systems so that schools succeed within and because of the system—not in spite of it.

Drawing from our experience, I have worked with a team of our analysts to identify the conditions and practices that enable districts to achieve significant improvements in student and school performance. We distilled these insights into School System 20/20. 

School System 20/20 includes both a vision for transformative change as well as a methodology for charting a path and measuring progress toward that change. Using a data-driven approach, it enables districts to see how resources—people, time, and money—are deployed, and to identify where they can better meet student and teacher needs. To improve student outcomes, we believe districts must set a clear vision, redesign their enabling structures and policies, and then better reallocate resources toward that vision. The goal is to ensure that every school succeeds for every student.

Back from the Brink: A Case Study of Lawrence Public Schools is the first in a new set of publications and tools designed to make School System 20/20 as real and practical as possible.

It is an in-depth case study of Lawrence Public Schools, located outside of Boston, which has gone from being one of the most troubled school systems in Massachusetts to showing great progress in just four years. We looked at Lawrence’s reforms through the lens of School System 20/20 to understand the power of a system-level approach. Other district leaders can learn from Lawrence’s experience and use the School System 20/20 toolkit—not to replicate their exact steps, but to assess their own challenges and prioritize the actions that will make the biggest difference in their unique circumstances.

In the next couple of months we will release another case study - this time about Aldine Independent School District, located just outside of Houston, Texas. This district showcases a very different approach to transformation and success. And we will release a set of assessment tools to help all school districts take a hard look at their structures, policies, and resource use practices to ensure they are maximized to meet student needs. You can see one version of the School System 20/20 “Report Card,” based on those assessment tools, in the Lawrence case study. We will also work with a select number of districts to do in-depth School System 20/20 assessments alongside them.

We invite you to join our journey toward School System 20/20. To be among the first to find out about our assessment tools, sign up for a free ERS account. If you are a district leader that is interested in learning more about work with us, please email us.