Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Major Education Reforms in Lawrence

 Speaking of MA, it was a great event in Boston a week ago Saturday – on only two days notice, 20 folks from many of the major ed reform organizations in the state (TFA, Stand for Children, DFER, etc.) showed up and we had a great conversation about the exciting things happening in MA. For the first time in more than 20 years, there will be a new mayor in Boston – a great opportunity to build on the progress there – and there’s a remarkable turnaround effort happening in Lawrence, the 15th poorest city in the country. I had the pleasure of meeting Seth Racine (, Chief Redesign Officer in Lawrence, who sent me this description of what’s happening there:

As you know, the state receivership of the Lawrence Public Schools began about a year ago.  I came aboard in January—along with my deputy Julie Swerdlow Albino—to support the Receiver, Jeff Riley, in implementing the reforms laid out in our turnaround plan.  Lawrence Public Schools serves approximately 14,000 students (87% low income) in 30 schools.  In 2011 student performance in Lawrence was in the bottom 1% of Massachusetts districts.  Since January, we have been working to transform the district from a top-down, centralized system to a decentralized system focused on high-performing, autonomous schools.

This includes both recruiting high-performing school operators and empowering traditional schools with charter-like autonomy after demonstrated performance.  Because of the immense flexibility given to us under receivership, we have been able to create the conditions for local charter and turnaround operators—Unlocking Potential, Community Group, and Phoenix Academy—to open new schools within district walls.  These groups were able to hire their entire staffs and have full flexibility of over their school programs, schedules, and working conditions.  As of this fall, roughly 20% of our schools will be operated under such innovative models.

We have also been working to develop systems to continue pushing autonomy and resources—both financial and programmatic—down to schools.  A few of our recent initiatives have included:

·        New flexible teachers' contract and performance-based salary system for teachers.  We created a new teacher career ladder (article attached) that enables teachers to progress based on performance, which means a new teacher could earn the top pay level—over $85,000—after just five years on the job.  We’ve also designed a new teachers contract to support our theory of school empowerment, including pushing decisions regarding working conditions to the school level. 

·        Reduction of central office to push more resources to the school level.  We recently reduced central office staff by 25%, which pushed an additional $1.6M out to schools.  We are now working on a new operating model for the district which re-focuses central office on supporting schools, and next year will be shifting to a weighted student funding model to ensure even greater funding transparency.

·        Developing a “menu” of support service options for schools. Rather than trying to build expertise at the central office level, we are striving to remain a lean operation by leveraging high-quality groups to support schools, such as Achievement Network for data-driven instruction and National Center on Time and Learning for extended day planning.  We plan to expand our menu of offerings to ensure all schools have access to top-notch supports.

We are optimistic about our progress, but recognize we have just begun the tough work of transforming an urban district.  More updates to come!

Below is an article about it, which begins:

The Lawrence school system is about to launch what state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester calls a “revolutionary’’ compensation plan for teachers. Of course, what passes for revolutionary in a public school system looks like old-fashioned merit pay in most job sectors. Still, the Lawrence plan is so sensible on its face that it might actually inspire major changes in how schools pay teachers across the state.

Also, here’s some basic info from the announcement in May 2012.

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