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How Dallas’ Accelerating Campus Excellence Initiative Could Help Schools in Ohio

Michael Nutter

October 23, 2019

The Dallas Independent School District launched its Accelerating Campus Excellence initiative in 2015. Four years on, the initiative’s success offers valuable lessons for schools across the country.

In 2015, the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) launched the Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) initiative. The ACE initiative represents a comprehensive strategy to transform some of the lowest-performing schools in Texas through “strong school leadership, effective teachers, and high expectations for both students and staff.”

Since its inception, 17 elementary and middle schools have participated in the ACE program. ACE applies a data-driven model to reevaluate teachers and strategically redeploy exceptional  faculty. It improves instructional design by using data analysis to structure classroom content and student assessment. In the past four years, ACE schools have seen significant improvements in student attendance and academic performance. By virtue of its success in Dallas, the ACE initiative is rapidly emerging as a model for systematically tackling one of the biggest challenges American schools face: educational inequity.

Addressing Educational Inequity

At its core, the ACE initiative is a strategy designed to tackle widespread inequity. Educational data shows that economically disadvantaged students in the Dallas area fare far worse than their more affluent peers, even when attending schools in wealthy districts. The achievement gap between affluent students and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds sometimes reached as high as 40 percentage points.

In order to create a more equitable learning environment, the ACE initiative strategically redistributes high-quality teachers and principals among the district’s lowest performing schools. Schools that qualify for the ACE initiative also receive expanded support including resources with with to provide longer school days, three hot meals per day, and after school enrichment programs.

Prioritizing Effective Teaching

The designers of ACE recognized that effective teachers are an indispensable resource for closing the achievement gap. But administrators and decision-makers often lacked the tools and metrics to pinpoint who these effective teachers were. The Widget Effect describes a phenomenon in which teachers are treated as interchangeable parts, or “widgets,” rather than professionals with individual strengths and weaknesses. National research on this effect found teaching evaluations to be indistinguishably positive, with no quantifiable metrics capable of distinguishing excellent teachers from teachers who need to improve. Without opportunities for recognition, effective teachers tend to congregate in more affluent schools.

To address this imbalance, the DISD turned to a data-driven model that would reevaluate local teachers and identify excellence. By implementing a more objective system that incorporates data from student evaluations, standardized testing scores, and principal ratings, the district was able to identify and recruit effective teachers. ACE programs offer financial incentives to qualified teachers and principals, encouraging the flow of human capital into struggling schools and potentially helping improve teacher satisfaction.

The result was an overwhelming success. According to data from the past three years, ACE elementary and middle schools saw remarkable improvements across the board in STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) performance, narrowing the achievement gap between struggling schools and the wider districts. For instance, over three years, Blanton Elementary School saw a 32 percent increase in STAAR reading grades and a 52 percent increase in math grades. During the 2017-2018 academic year alone, the current cohort of ACE elementary schools saw improvements of up to 14 percent in reading grades and 21 percent in math.

Why ACE Works and Why It Matters

Guided by data-driven assessment metrics, the DISD continues to attract exceptional teaching talent to struggling schools in order to revamp ineffective instructional models. The ACE initiative presents a replicable model for combatting the inequitable distribution of human capital across the country, as ACE components are designed to be reusable in most public schools that are serving economically disadvantaged students.

The core components of ACE include strategic staffing of effective teachers and principals through financial incentives (ranging between $10,000 and $15,000 per year), intervening early to improve education with data-driven models, and developing strong relationships with parents and community organizations.

ACE is successful because it objectively identifies talent and concretely recognizes personnel through financial incentives. By valuing the labor of teachers and school leaders willing to relocate to low-performing schools, the district sends a message that exceptional teaching makes a difference and should be rewarded.

Since ACE was designed to be replicated, school districts in Ohio should consider implementing such a program. Ohio schools struggling to attract and retain effective teachers and administrators can use the ACE initiative in Texas as a model for improvement. That said, implementing ACE programs requires significant financial resources, both for educator incentives and for the collection and utilization of educational data. Schools will only see results if they proactively evaluate classroom teaching and adopt data-driven models of instruction in core subjects.

Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS platform provides a useful tool for Ohio schools looking to tackle educational inequities. By facilitating accurate and efficient EMIS reporting, CheckPoint helps schools secure the maximum amount of funding possible and provide financial support for strategic initiatives like ACE. CheckPoint aggregates and visualizes data through user-friendly dashboards, making it easier to not only derive insights, but use these insights to secure funding for educational excellence initiatives.

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