By Rae Ann Knopf, Executive Director of CCER

As we move to support the implementation of innovative strategies and interventions framed by the education reform policies enacted in 2011 and 2012, we should not underestimate the importance and potential of the Alliance District program.  With 129 of the 130 public elementary and secondary schools identified as in need of improvement for five years or more located in an Alliance district, the program is designed to compel education leaders to prioritize funding to turnaround persistently low performing schools and close achievement gaps for all students.  With the recent passage of Senate Bill 458 and elements of the approved waiver to the No Child Left Behind provisions now codified in Public Act 12-116, it is more important than ever that we adopt the most promising interventions for raising student performance and closing Connecticut’s largest in the nation achievement gap.

The Alliance District program requires the 30 districts with the lowest district performance index scoresstatewide, to apply for and obtain State Department of Education approval on their detailed strategies for improving student performance, in order to receive their share of $39.5 million in additional ECS funding to support these efforts.  According to State Department of Education statistics, Alliance districts serve nearly 40% of our students and employ more than 35% of our educators.  As such, this strategy effectively targets closing improving academic outcomes for a significant proportion of the state’s lowest achieving students, schools and districts and closing the achievement gap. The Alliance District program requirements:

  • Ties eligibility for incremental Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding to high quality plans to raise academic achievement for students and schools that are the furthest behind.
  • Compels leaders to act urgently and responsibly by imposing an immediate timeline beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, and requiring that districts follow-through and be annually reviewed over a five-year period.
  • Connects resources, funding, improvement strategies, and outcomes to drive them towards the primary objective of improving academic achievement for each child in Connecticut.
  • Prioritizes practices with evidence of success in raising achievement and closing gaps.  Recommended strategies include: differentiating supports and interventions to schools within the district based on student learning needs; employing academic interventions with individual students that target rapid improvement, such as extended learning time, early literacy and remediation, dropout prevention and benchmark assessments; and developing talent development and evaluation systems that strengthen teaching and leadership abilities among educators.
  • Recognizes local culture and context, by supporting districts to develop their own plans and take public responsibility for results as defined by comparable state-level guidelines and targets.

By directing the responsibility and support for raising student performance to those at the local and state levels who determine the allocation of resources and implementing innovative strategies to support teachers and principals in improving student performance, the Alliance District program has the potential to raise the quality of education for all students in Connecticut’s 30 lowest-achieving districts and significantly reduce the achievement gap over the next five years.