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Essential School Practices

Examples from Seven Districts

Before schools can systematically implement a district’s vision for excellent school practices, district leadership must clearly articulate exactly what school strategies they believe will improve student learning. Many districts have gone to great lengths to communicate the “essential school practices” they want to see in their schools. Some use these “essentials” as the foundation for their master education plans. Others have articulated the steps the central office must take to support schools in implementing the “essentials.”

To examine the many different ways districts are articulating these best practices, check out the following summary of “essential school practices” from seven urban districts. Click on the links to read the original district documents and use these examples to help you reflect on your own district’s “essentials.”

Baltimore City Public Schools
Baltimore City Public Schools’ (BCPS) Essential School Practices are described in great detail in the district’s Great Kids, Great Schools: Essential Indicators. BCPS states each essential practice and includes many corresponding indicators so that school and district leaders can use these strategies as they build their own school-level plans. “Great Kids, Great Schools” also includes links to numerous district support materials.

Boston Public Schools
Since 1996, the Seven Essentials of Whole School Improvement have been a driving force of reform in Boston Public Schools. Although the essentials have been modified slightly over time to reflect lessons from the field, they still serve as the district’s core principles for transforming schools. As part of this framework, the district also provides indicators, reflective questions, and a rubric to rate school practice. These tools encourage and support strategic conversations and planning at the school level.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ School Quality Review Process hinges on six criterion of successful schools: Achievement, Curriculum, Learning and Teaching, Leadership and Management, Learning Environment, and Involvement of Parents/Guardians and Community. Each criteria includes specific sub-criteria to more fully elaborate on the details of the practice, as well as a rubric to allow schools and evaluators to rate progress towards high quality implementation.

Chicago Public Schools
Chicago Public Schools’ Education Plan is an extensive outline of the district’s vision of what schools and the central office need to do to improve student learning. The plan includes eight goals with detailed strategies to help realize them. It lays out explicit roles for schools and the central office and includes an “Instructional Framework” for each goal, explaining why each is so critical to student success.

Cincinnati Public Schools
Cincinnati Public Schools’ Building Futures School Standards includes six standards for school practice and rubrics to help schools rate their progress toward exemplary implementation. These standards are integrated into OnePlan, the district’s school-level comprehensive planning template.

District of Columbia Public Schools
The District of Columbia Public Schools’ Effective Schools Framework represents the foundation of district’s strategy for reform. Centered around six core elements, this framework clearly articulates implementation expectations for both schools and the central office. In addition to the core elements, the framework stresses the importance of using data-driven decision making within each of these elements.

New York City Department of Education
The New York City Department of Education uses Quality Review Criteria to articulate the concrete school practices that will lead to accelerated student learning. The criteria include five quality statements that are further detailed through indicators as well as a rubric to measure progress.

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