External Support to Schools on Probation: Getting a Leg Up?

July, 2003
Kara Finnigan and Jennifer O’Day with the assistance of David Wakelyn
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In 1996, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) established a school accountability system that identified low-performing schools. The system intended to improve student achievement by providing failing schools with a mixture of external supports and consequences. Schools were placed on probation if fewer than 15 percent (subsequently raised to 20 percent) of their students scored at or above grade-level norms on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. Probationary changes to schools included the provision of external partners, the addition of on-site professional development activities, and, in contrast, reduced autonomy and the threat of further sanctions, such as school reconstitution.

This report illuminates a two-year analysis of the design of CPS’s accountability policy and its implementation in Chicago’s elementary schools. Findings center on the role of external partners and probation managers in their implementation of the policy, the constraints their influence posed, and numerous suggestions for policy changes to assist urban centers, such as Chicago, in these dedicated school reform efforts.

Because external partners and probation managers continue to assist failing schools today, both in Chicago and nationally, this study will inform policies and practices in numerous urban areas.

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