Strategies to Improve Low-Performing Schools Under the Every Student Succeeds Act: How 3 Districts Found Success Using Evidence-Based Practices


By Straus, C. and Miller, T.

Center for American Progress

March, 2016
Report Cover

Almost six years ago, the Houston Independent School District, or HISD, faced a challenge that district leaders across the country confront each year: how to dramatically improve student achievement in the lowest-performing schools. After research and consultation, planning and development, in 2010 HISD launched the Apollo 20 program, the nation’s first large-scale effort to implement high-performing charter school practices in a traditional public school environment. Based on research on effective schooling models, the Apollo 20 program implemented the following best practices of high-performing charters:

1. Data-driven instruction

2. Excellence in teaching and leadership

3. Culture of high expectations

4. Frequent and intensive tutoring, or so-called high-dosage tutoring

5. Extended school day and year

Following the creation and implementation of the Apollo 20 program, the Denver Public Schools district  and Lawrence Public Schools  in Massachusetts, also chose to pursue their own similar but customized approach to turning around low-performing schools. Each school district operated within a unique context and pursued differing approaches to implementation of their turnarounds. Yet, each district experienced student achievement gains

For other districts with low-performing schools, the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, presents an opportunity to implement similar comprehensive, evidence-based school improvement strategies.

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