ESSA Implementation Lessons Learned: Blog 3

Collaboration to Put Students First: Ohio’s Collaborative School Improvement Model

This blog is the third and final in a three-part series highlighting lessons learned by states as they implement their consolidated state plans for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This series shares insights and advice from state leaders about how they have organized their work and navigated challenges, specifically tailored for states engaged in similar efforts.

Ohio Profile
State: Ohio ESSA implementation approach: State and local collaboration for school improvement

School improvement requires participation from stakeholders at all levels. State, regional, district, and school staff all play key roles in assessing challenges, identifying potential solutions, and implementing change to ultimately improve student outcomes. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) recognizes the importance of stakeholder engagement in school improvement efforts and has spent the last 2 years crafting a coordinated approach as part of the Ohio Strategic State Plan for Education, which uses the ESEA as the foundation for its school improvement activities. To learn more, the State Support Network spoke with Jo Hannah Ward, executive director of the Center for Continuous Improvement at ODE, about its collaboration with regional service centers, districts, and schools. Following are excerpts (edited for clarity) from the conversation:

Describe Ohio’s overall approach to coordinating school improvement efforts.

ODE spent the last 2 years engaging with stakeholders across Ohio—educators, administrators, business professionals, and others—through webinars and open forums for input on both the ESSA Consolidated State Plan and the Ohio Strategic Plan for Education. The Strategic Plan for Education, titled Each Child, Our Future, was approved by the State Board of Education in August 2018, and we’re starting implementation. The Each Child, Our Future plan describes ongoing collaboration as a key part of school improvement efforts, such as working with stakeholders to identify student needs and strengthening support systems.

Ohio's strategic plan identifies 4 domains of learning, 1 goal, 3 core principles, and 10 priority strategies.

Implementing the plan requires contributions from state and regional partners. The ODE Center for Continuous Improvement is working with other ODE offices (e.g., Offices of Exceptional Children, Integrated Student Supports, Early Learning and School Readiness, and Literacy) to determine what services districts and schools need and how we can provide those services.

In addition, we’re partnering with our 52 regional Educational Service Centers (ESCs), which provide professional development and other supports to districts to support identified needs related to school improvement. There also are 16 state support teams that are contracted through the ESCs to provide targeted and comprehensive support, such as use of evidence-based practices and boosting organizational efficiency. The state support teams are comprised of educators and administrators throughout the state.

What challenges do you face in getting everyone on the same page? How do you address those challenges?

It’s hard work and takes a lot of time to ensure that everyone is communicating across ODE, the ESCs, and the state support teams. The agency has a focused effort to ensure communication and feedback loops occur both ways.

What successes have you had so far with your collaborative efforts?

District survey tool: This survey tool asks districts questions about many aspects of school improvement activities, including data use, collaboration among school and district staff, and methods used to assess progress toward a school’s goals, including equity. Eventually, the tool will include data and resources related to English learners and career and technical education.

One big success of our cross agency collaboration is the district survey tool, which districts can access and submit through a secure online portal. Prior to launching this tool, we had a coordinated system for rolling out technical assistance, but we didn’t have a coordinated system for tracking opportunities to strengthen support to districts. This new district survey tool gives us an opportunity to see districts’ implementation efforts in relation to the improvement plans. The goal isn’t to monitor for compliance; rather, the goal is to help districts and schools see opportunities to grow.

What lessons have you learned so far that might be helpful to your counterparts in other states?

We know it’s important to be intentional about how we direct our state support teams; specifically, we need to be mindful of schools that have specific challenges beyond the common challenges that qualify them as comprehensive support and improvement (CSI) and targeted support and improvement (TSI) schools. Over time, we realized that state support teams are spending a lot of time providing “universal” support, but need to spend more time addressing the specific challenges of the schools that they’re supporting. State Support Teams are required to use 90% of staff time and effort toward those districts which are identified in targeted and comprehensive support. 10% of staff time and effort can be used for universal supports to any district.

What role has technical assistance (such as the State Support Network’s State Support for School Identification and Support Community of Practice) played in your work?

Technical assistance is one of the biggest reasons we’ve been able to move forward. Seeing other states share their problems of practice and collaboration efforts through the community of practice has helped our ODE staff realize that there’s a national push to coordinate school improvement. It also has helped us address our own challenges and be mindful of other stakeholders that need to be brought into the mix.

What resources should other states consider in supporting similar work?

  • The Ohio Leadership Advisory Council (OLAC) is a culmination of various groups coming together around six key principles. The OLAC website has learning modules, videos, research documents, and other resources that can be useful. Topics include building district teams and teacher teams, establishing school board structures and relations, and improving family engagement.
  • We used the Center on School Turnaround’s Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement framework, which helped us hone in on instruction, leadership, and other key considerations.
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers’ Principles of Effective School Improvement Systems was very helpful for our state planning.
  • We also connected with the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) to help our state support teams understand implementation science. Trainings from NIRN inform the efforts of our state and regional staff to rigorously plan and monitor school improvement initiatives throughout Ohio.