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District-Level Reform Projects and Publications

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Evaluating Philadelphia’s Community Schools Initiative

RFA was selected as the external evaluator for Philadelphia's Community Schools initiative, a hallmark of Mayor Jim Kenney's education agenda. The initiative provides a comprehensive set of social services and supports for schoolchildren and communities.…

Examining the Fiscal Impact of Charter School Expansion

As charter school enrollment in Pennsylvania rises, understanding the fiscal impact of charter school expansion is critical for school districts to accurately budget and to anticipate current and future costs. RFA, with generous funding from…

Renaissance Schools in Philadelphia: Examining Early Implementation of a Turnaround School Model

This study, commissioned by the Accountability Review Council of the School District of Philadelphia, focused on the early months of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's Renaissance Schools Initiative, designed to turn around chronically low-performing schools. Thirteen schools…

The Campaign for Better Schools: A Coalition to Influence New York City School Governance Supported by the Donor’s Education Collaborative in NYC

RFA evaluated a grant that the Donors' Education Collaborative (DEC) in New York City awarded to a set of advocacy and organizing groups. The grant supported the development of a coalition focused on influencing the…

A Documentation of a Collaborative High School Planning Process: Philadelphia Education Fund

The Philadelphia Education Fund and the School District of Philadelphia partnered to convene a broad-based planning process to design a five-year blueprint for the redesign of Philadelphia's high schools. The effort involved a broad range…

School Choice in a City of Neighborhoods: Philadelphia’s Approach to High School Reform

RFA's study on high school choice builds on the "Learning from Philadelphia's School Reform" study and turns RFA's attention to the improvement of Philadelphia's high schools--a focus that was not part of the previous study…

Supporting Education Organizing for Education Equity: Communities for Public Education Reform

Southeastern Pennsylvania was selected as one of four sites for funding from Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER), a national philanthropic collaborative aimed at increasing student and parent power to affect school reform. CPER-funded groups…

Going Small: Public/Private Collaboration in Restructuring High School Education in Philadelphia

RFA examined the planning and early implementation of the School District of Philadelphia small schools strategy for high school reform, focusing especially on the significant role of public/private sector collaboration in developing and carrying out…

Learning to Learn from Data: Using Data to Inform Instructional Decisions and Improve Student Learning in Low-Performing Urban Schools

RFA's study on the use of interim assessment data focused on low-performing urban elementary and middle schools under significant pressure to improve student achievement using student data. The study took advantage of the local school…

A Study of Local Education Funds: Public Education Network (PEN)

RFA worked with PEN to continue their research on the role of Local Education Funds (LEFs) in shifting the education landscape in their communities. It provided public education stakeholders with a deeper understanding about how…

A Formative Evaluation of Reform Initiatives in Trenton Public Schools: Trenton School District

RFA conducted a 4-year evaluation of the Trenton School District's Leadership for Education Achievement (LEAD) initiative. LEAD is a program supported by the DeWitt Wallace Foundation which builds school and district leadership capacity for the…

Learning from Philadelphia’s School Reform

RFA is leading "Learning from Philadelphia's School Reform," a comprehensive, multi-year study of Philadelphia's complex and radical school reform effort. RFA researchers worked with colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, Montclair State University, Swarthmore College,…

Cross-City Campaign for Urban School Reform: A Study of the Contributions of Community Organizing to Urban School Reform

The Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform and RFA developed the Indicators Framework, which is being used to document the impact of community organizing for school reform. RFA has used the Indicators Framework in…

A Study of the Experiences of African-American Students: Lower Merion School District

RFA worked with Concerned Black Parents in Lower Merion to conduct qualitative research into the educational experiences of African-American students at Harriton High School and Lower Merion High School.

An Evaluation of Parent and Community Roles in Local Schools: Alliance Organizing Project (AOP)

AOP was a Philadelphia-based group working to organize parents for new roles in their local schools for the purpose of supporting and sustaining school reform. RFA worked with AOP to assess how participation in organizing…

Taking Stock/Making Change: School District of Philadelphia and the Center for Urban Ethnography, University of Pennsylvania. An Action Research Project

Taking Stock/Making Change was a collaboration between RFA and the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Urban Ethnography which supported study teams in five Philadelphia elementary and middle schools in their efforts to connect self-assessment to…

The Philadelphia Community Schools Initiative: Year 1 Evaluation

Patching the Leaky Pipeline: Recruiting and Retaining Teachers of Color in Pennsylvania

Research shows that exposure to teachers of color has a positive impact on students of all races, and particularly on students of color. Despite these positive effects, only 4% of Pennsylvania's teachers are people of…

Community Schools Progress Report Toolkit: Indicators of Engagement, Planning and Early Successes

There are more than three dozen systemic community schools initiatives currently underway nationwide, with even more communities considering the reform. Yet few tools exist to help school districts, government agencies, and communities at large track…

The Fiscal Impact of Charter School Expansion: Calculations in Six Pennsylvania School Districts

As charter school enrollment in Pennsylvania rises, understanding the fiscal impact of charter school expansion is critical for school districts to accurately budget and to anticipate current and future costs. In order to calculate the…

Community Schools in Practice: Research on Implementation and Impact

Community schools are receiving increased attention in Pennsylvania and across the country as policymakers and practitioners strive to address the effects of poverty on academic performance, and provide more comprehensive supports for traditionally-underserved populations. While…

Project LIFT: Year Three Student Outcomes Memo

Pennsylvania’s School Performance Profile: Not the Sum of its Parts

Test-based accountability has been a primary feature of public school policy since 2001, when the No Child Left Behind Act required states to adopt annual assessment programs, identify sanctions for schools that did not meet…

Going One-to-One in Urban Schools

Beginning in spring 2013, students in seven elementary schools throughout the Project LIFT zone in Charlotte, North Carolina began to receive XO laptops provided by the organization One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) for use both…

Local School Governance in Philadelphia

School district governance in Philadelphia has long been a subject of debate. In this PACER brief, RFA examined the history of Philadelphia school governance; surveyed the governance structures in a sample of other large, urban…

Project LIFT: Year Two Report

Research for Action (RFA) has completed its second year of a five-year external evaluation of the Project Leadership and Investment for Transformation (LIFT) Initiative in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District (CMS). Project LIFT is a public-private…

Enacting Common Core Instruction: A Comparative Study of the Use of LDC Literacy Tools in Three Sites

As of the writing of this report, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are being implemented in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Approaches to implementing the standards, however, are highly varied. For the…

Project LIFT: Year One Report

Research for Action (RFA) is currently in the second year of a five-year external evaluation of the Project Leadership and Investment for Transformation (LIFT) Initiative in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District (CMS). Project LIFT is a…

Teacher Effectiveness: An Update on Pennsylvania’s Teacher Evaluation System

This policy brief provides a closer look at Pennsylvania's new teacher evaluation system and the efforts of the Pittsburgh Public Schools to implement reforms. This brief includes implications for state policymakers, district leaders, and education…

Enacting Common Core Instruction: Strong Central Management and Strategic Delegation of Responsibility Drove Implementation of LDC in Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools

Following two years of extensive data collection in eight sites throughout the country, Research for Action (RFA) is producing three case studies to illustrate how the LDC and MDC tools have been adopted in different…

Youth Courts and their Educational Value: An Examination of Youth Courts in Chester, Pennsylvania

In the 2011-12 school year, the Stoneleigh Foundation commissioned Research for Action (RFA) to conduct a study of Chester Upland School District's (CUSD) youth courts. The purpose of the youth court model is to allow…

School Closings Policy

The nation's largest school districts have increasingly turned to building closures to address budget deficits, demographic shifts, and the movement of students to charter schools. This PACER Issue Brief examines school closings policy.

Getting to Outcomes: A User’s Guide to a Revised Indicators Framework for Education Organizing

Research for Action (RFA) has been among those engaged in education organizing research and has drawn on its previous efforts--as well as the knowledge built by community organizing groups and other researchers--to create this User's…

Issue Brief: School District Portfolio Management

In Philadelphia, an ambitious effort to restructure the district has been proposed. The draft Blueprint for Reforming Philadelphia's Public Schools, released in April 2012, sets two distinct goals: 1) Safe, high-performing schools district-wide; and 2)…

Philadelphia’s Renaissance Schools Initiative: 18 Month Interim Report

This report presents Year One (2010-11) school level achievement and attendance outcomes and case study findings from fall 2011 that focused on school leadership and instruction.Thirteen schools were included in the first year of Philadelphia's…

A Snapshot of Philadelphia’s Accelerated Schools

This snapshot is a guide to the School District of Philadelphia's (the District's) 13 accelerated high schools in the 2010-11 school year. The accelerated high schools were the result of a partnership between the District…

Philadelphia’s Renaissance Schools: A Report on Start Up and Early Implementation

In April 2009, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman announced her reform plan for the School District of Philadelphia (the District) - Imagine 2014. Among other major initiatives, Imagine 2014 laid the groundwork for Philadelphia's Renaissance Schools Initiative.…

Bringing a Public Voice to the School Governance Debate: The Campaign for Better Schools and Mayoral Control in New York City (Executive Summary)

In this two-year study, Research for Action (RFA), working in collaboration with Jeffrey Henig of Teachers College, assessed the formation and development of a coalition of organizing and advocacy groups, funded by the Donors' Education…

Bringing a Public Voice to the School Governance Debate: The Campaign for Better Schools and Mayoral Control in New York City (Media Report)

In this two-year study, Research for Action (RFA), working in collaboration with Jeffrey Henig of Teachers College, assessed the formation and development of a coalition of organizing and advocacy groups, funded by the Donors' Education…

Bringing a Public Voice to the School Governance Debate: The Campaign for Better Schools and Mayoral Control in New York City (Year One Report)

In this two-year study, Research for Action (RFA), working in collaboration with Jeffrey Henig of Teachers College, assessed the formation and development of a coalition of organizing and advocacy groups, funded by the Donors' Education…

Bringing a Public Voice to the School Governance Debate: The Campaign for Better Schools and Mayoral Control in New York City (Year Two Report)

In this two-year study, Research for Action (RFA), working in collaboration with Jeffrey Henig of Teachers College, assessed the formation and development of a coalition of organizing and advocacy groups, funded by the Donors' Education…

Uneven Playing Field: Demographic Differences and High School ‘Choice’ in Philadelphia

Every fall, eighth graders participate in the School District of Philadelphia's high school application and admissions process, vying for spots in a tiered system of public high schools across the city. This policy brief looks…

Challenges to Freshman Year Interventions in Philadelphia

Philadelphia made early investments in reforms designed to address the challenges of large neighborhood high schools, including supports for the critical ninth grade transition year. Well over a decade later, our research shows that freshman…

Transition to High School: School ‘Choice’ and Freshman Year in Philadelphia

The School District of Philadelphia's tiered system of selective, nonselective, and charter high schools, and the process for high school choice, has created real variation in the degree to which high schools can successfully meet…

Context, Conditions, and Consequences: Freshman Year Transition in Philadelphia

This policy brief focuses on the School District of Philadelphia's high school selection process and the ways in which it reinforces and compounds inequities that already exist among the District's tiered system of selective, non-selective,…

Philadelphia’s Teacher Appraisal System: Needs Improvement

Philadelphia's Teacher Appraisal System lays out a number of features of the current appraisal system used by the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) that keep it from effectively supporting high-quality teaching. District schools rate teacher…

Making the Most of Interim Assessment Data: Lessons from Philadelphia

Under No Child Left Behind, urban school districts have increasingly turned to interim assessments, administered at regular intervals, to help gauge student progress in advance of annual state exams. These assessments have spawned growing debate…

Counselors are Critical: How Middle School Counselors Can Support Students in Philadelphia’s High School Application Process

This brief draws on the data from interviews with counselors, 8th grade students, and parents, as well as observations of parent meetings, counselor meetings, assembly presentations and a day at the SDP High School Expo,…