Download featured IES Practice Guide

This event, hosted by REL West at the request of the California Department of Education, provided an opportunity for about 50 members of California's Race to the Top Work Group, key legislative staff, and representatives of key state organizations to explore the research behind various methods of turning around chronically low-performing schools.

For more information, please contact:

Catherine Walcott


Turning Around Low-Performing Schools: Bridging Research, Policy, and Practice

December 02, 2009

Sterling Hotel
1300 H Street
Sacramento, California

Goals of the Event

  • Examine research findings on effective strategies to turn around low-performing schools.
  • Discuss lessons learned from turnaround efforts in California.
  • Discuss how research findings could impact current decisions about how best to structure the state's approaches to turning around the most persistently low-performing schools.

Part of a U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES) initiative to bring evidence to practice, the event was designed to deepen participants’ understanding of how to recognize and apply good research evidence to improve persistently low-performing schools. It featured Turning Around Chronically Low-Performing Schools, one in a series of research-based practice guides published by IES. 


Presentations by prominent researchers and school turnaround experts provided a foundation for discussions about issues related to turning around persistently low-performing schools in California.

Rebecca Herman, principal research scientist for American Institutes for Research (AIR) and panel chair for the featured practice guide, presented an overview of the four research-based practices recommended in Turning Around Chronically Low-Performing Schools:

  • Signal the need for dramatic change with strong leadership.
  • Maintain a consistent focus on improving instruction.
  • Make visible improvements early in the school turnaround process ("quick wins").
  • Build a committed staff.

Sam Redding, Director of the Center on Innovation and Improvement and practice guide panelist, discussed how the strategies outlined in the practice guide can be supported through a system of state and district support for chronically low-performing schools.

Susan Burr, Executive Director of the California County Superintendents Education Services Association (CCSESA), with input from Christine Padilla, Senior Policy Analyst at SRI International and a manager in their Center for Education Policy, and Juliet Tiffany-Morales, a deputy project director at SRI, focused on the district role in supporting school turnaround. They presented findings and shared important lessons learned from a recent SRI evaluation of California’s District Assistance and Intervention Team (DAIT) pilot program.

Dalia Hochman, a senior consultant with Mass Insight Education and Resarch, shared lessons learned from the organization’s work with high poverty, high performing schools, including suggestions for ways that states and districts can accelerate school turnarounds.

Christina de Jesus, Chief Academic Officer, and Kelly Hurley, Cluster Director, Green Dot Public Schools, described the turnaround process underway at Locke High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, reflecting on the conditions that are necessary to foster school improvement and barriers that can impede progress.

Interactive Session

Following their individual presentations, the researchers and experts engaged in a lively discussion with participants, focusing on implications for California’s system of support for low-performing districts and schools. A key issue that emerged is the importance of building district capacity and leadership for the turnaround process. Rick Miller, Deputy Superintendent, Policy Development and External Affairs at the California Department of Education, moderated the discussion and provided summary remarks.

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