Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative Sites

The NEA Foundation has invested more than $11 million to support union-district collaboration districts with a high number of under achieving low income and minority students. With early results from local evaluative efforts showing significant and positive changes in teaching and learning, the Foundation has expanded the initiative and now supports additional sites in Lee County, FL, Springfield, MA, Omaha, NE, and Columbus, OH.


Lee County, FL (2011)


  • Total Enrollment – 85,581
  • Student Poverty – 70%
  • Diversity – 53% (Black: 16%, Hispanic: 31%, Multi-racial: 4%, Asian: 2%)
  • Teacher Retention – 90%


Key Strategies

  • Professional Development: The Lee County partnership pre-trained teachers and staff on the Sterling and Glasser models during their planning phase. The combination of the Sterling and Glasser models is unique to Lee County, developed over eight years through use at Tropic Isles Elementary. All training and activities have been developed to align with the District’s Strategic Plan, thus setting the stage for sustainability of efforts past the anticipated five-year funding cycle. The combined model allows for:
  • Regular monitoring of how cohort schools’ achievement compares to that of other schools in the district and state
  • Development of specific goals and action plans at the school, grade or department, and class levels
  • Provision of professional development to all teachers focused on specific strategies for helping students set their own goals and action plans
  • Regular collection, analysis and use of formative data appropriate to drive instructional improvement


  • Collaboration: At the school level, collaboration promises to be equally strong, and is also focused on teaching and learning. Each spring, student achievement data will be reviewed for each school, and “Goal Teams” will be formed to address deficiencies. In the fall, the Goal Teams meet to review additional data and to submit specific subsequent years revised goals for staff approval. Noteworthy are the development of action steps to be followed by individual teachers in each school. Union, district and community leaders comprising the formal leadership team for the effort plan to:
  • Collaborate to determine specific needs of grant schools, and facilitate activities to meet identified needs
  • Provide infrastructure to facilitate sharing of best practices among and within grant schools
  • Maintain active membership on the District Quality Improvement Advisory Committee


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Omaha, NE (2011)


  • Total Enrollment – 50,378
  • Student Poverty – 72%
  • Diversity – 66% (Black: 26%, Hispanic: 29%)
  • Teacher Retention – 94%     


Key Strategies

District-union leadership have jointly developed an “Equity and Collaboration Audit,” designed to assess collaborative capacity and guide school-specific training in Year I. Deepened and sustained collaboration at the school level will be facilitated through data generated by the audit, which measures schools’ and/or educators’ and administrators’:

  • Understanding of systemic change processes, change management and change agency
  • Collaborative skills, including inquiry, dialogue and reflection skills
  • Skills for data review and analysis and root cause analysis
  • Problem-solving processes and skills, including conflict management and interest-based strategies
  • Strategic planning process and skills, including vision and mission clarification, environment scanning, community mapping, research literature reviews, strategic questioning, action planning, evaluation planning
  • Structures and process tools for participation and involvement in decision-making and school governance


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Columbus, OH (2010)


  • Total Enrollment – 50,630
  • Student Poverty – 80%
  • Diversity – 70% (Black: 57.8%, Hispanic: 6.8%)
  • Teacher Retention – 94%   


Description of Work

The 100% Project is a collaborative effort of the Columbus Education Association (CEA), Columbus City Schools, and United Way of Central Ohio to close the achievement gaps in two high poverty, high minority, and underachieving feeder patterns (elementary, middle and high school): Briggs High School, Hilltonia Middle School, Wedgewood Middle School, Binns Elementary School, Burroughs Elementary School, Eakin Elementary School, Lindbergh Elementary School, West Mound Elementary School, Linden-McKinley High School, Hamilton Elementary School, Linden Elementary School, South Mifflin Elementary School, Windsor Elementary School.

The 100% Project will bring targeted support to the participating schools to serve as models for the rest of the district primarily in the areas of professional development and learning, parent and community engagement, and district/association collaboration. Institutional Research Consultants, Ltd. will conduct the external evaluation for the project.

Key Strategies

  • Collaboration: An existing Reform Panel expanded to become the District Leadership Team (DLT) with the addition of community, business, parent, and higher education members.
  • Professional Development: A second year of Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) provides evaluation and coaching by mentors for second year teachers and support for highly effective, high functioning professional learning communities as well as strengthening the professional development plan in each school’s ASIP.
  • Parent Engagement: Parent-to-parent training for parents and/or guardians in each of the 100% Project schools with support from the district’s parent liaisons.
  • Teacher Home Visits: Each of the 100% Project schools will conduct home visits.
  • Student Achievement Data Systems:  Expanded capability to evaluate data on student achievement through development of a transactional student information system.

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Springfield, MA (2010)


  • Total Enrollment – 25,230
  • Student Poverty – 86%
  • Diversity – 86% (Black: 20.7%, Hispanic: 59.7%)
  • Teacher Retention – 86%

Description of Work
The Springfield Collaboration for Change (SCC) is a partnership between Springfield Education Association (SEA), Springfield Public Schools (SPS), and a growing number of community groups, including the United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Davis Foundation and the Pioneer Valley Project, to raise academic achievement for all students while eliminating achievement gaps among Latino/Hispanic, African American and low income students.

Key Strategies

  • Professional Development: District professional development offerings will respond to curricular and instructional needs of teachers, and will also include training on collaborative decision making for the school level teams, distributive leadership skills for principals, and meeting facilitation skills for teachers. Training on data fluency and the role of data in refining instructional practice and strategies at the level of the individual teacher and among various groupings of teachers will also be provided to participating school teams.
  • Professional Learning Communities: Participating schools will partner with their respective two-member coaching teams (retired principal, retired master teacher) to plan and execute innovations in a professional learning community. The professional learning community model will be adapted to include not only student performance and growth data, but teacher satisfaction data and perceptions about curriculum, instruction, and leadership.
  • Instructional Leadership Specialists: Specialists will be placed in each participating school to provide coaching in content, data analysis and classroom management (according to the needs of the teachers as determined by the school team and teachers' self-identified needs).
  • Parent Engagement: A Parent Teacher Home Visit Project will be expanded in all participating schools. Teachers will be trained in relationship building, visit protocols, overcoming assumptions, conducting open discussions with students and families, and communication skills that will build trust. They will conduct two yearly homes visits, for at least one hour per meeting.


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Milwaukee, WI (2006)


  • Total Enrollment – 82,000
  • Student Poverty – 81%

Description of Work
In Milwaukee, the initiative focused on intensive professional development for teachers in 20 low performing schools. The schools formed Learning Teams consisting of the principal, the literacy coach, the math teacher leader, the curriculum generalist, and other classroom teachers, who met weekly to analyze data, develop the school’s Closing the Gap Action Plan and lead professional development within the school.

Key Strategies
The initiative is an outgrowth of the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, a school-improvement partnership that includes leaders from the district, the teachers’ union, the business community and—significantly—higher education. These leaders meet monthly to plan and design the initiative and establish work groups on such topics as family literacy, teacher/principal quality, mathematics, and literacy.


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Seattle, WA (2006)


  • Total Enrollment – 48,496
  • Student Poverty – 40.5%


Description of Work

In Seattle, the initiative is known as the Flight School Initiative. It is implemented in two cohorts, or flights, each consisting of elementary, middle and high schools that form a feeder pattern. Altogether, 16 schools are part of the initiative. The initiative consists of three components: the alignment of curriculum and instruction, the development of professional learning communities and the engagement of families and community members.

Key Strategies

The initiative focuses on neighborhood clusters to provide a coherent and aligned approach for students as they transition through the district's schools. In order to improve family and community engagement, the FSI schools have used several new strategies, including conducting home visits and sponsored family nights.


At Foundation-funded schools, the student achievement rates have surpassed the state's average in reading and math. Also, educators are reporting a positive professional climate and dramatically increased communication with parents. Approximately 77 percent of students' parents received a home visit by school educators in the past year.


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Hamilton County, TN (2005)


  • Total Enrollment – 41,748
  • Student Poverty – 60.3%


Description of Work

In 2005, the NEA Foundation, the Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE), Hamilton County Education Association (HCEA), and the Public Education Foundation (PEF) began working with a handful of middle schools in Hamilton County.

Within a year of the $2.5 million grant from the NEA Foundation that funded this work, the Chattanooga-based Lyndhurst Foundation provided funds for a planning year and a $6 million, four year grant. Hope became a reality as all 21 middle schools in the district benefited from the combined support of these two dynamic foundations. As the NEA Foundation grant period has come to an end, the Lyndhurst Foundation has increased funding in order for the work to continue in the 2009-2010 school year.

Goals of the initiative have focused on creating a more rigorous learning environment where more students score “advanced” on state exams while, at the same time, the achievement gap between low-income and middle-income students is narrowed.

Key Strategies
Professional development for teachers and school leaders has been a major focus of Middle Schools for a New Society, including:

  • Semi-annual planning retreats: Leadership teams of students, parents, teachers and administrators at each school have come together to study effective methods for school improvement and have developed plans focused on the unique needs of their own schools.
  • Instructional coaches: The most effective professional development is available when it is needed and where it is needed.  Middle schools have been provided with expert teachers to serve as coaches offering support to other teachers. These coaches receive training in best practices and working with adults, participate in network meetings, and bring information and effective teaching strategies back to their schools. They encourage collaboration and sharing of great ideas, model lessons and offer help and support to teachers who are working to improve their craft.
  • Networks: Principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches, lead math teachers, and lead literacy teachers across the district are working and learning together through networks focused on attaining high levels of student achievement. In network meetings, schools are able to share best practices, strategies, and intervention that worked for them, and they have data to prove it. Middle schools have begun to open their doors and their classrooms to teachers who want to see, firsthand, stellar lessons.
  • Expert consultants:  Networks have used Mike Schmoker’s Results Now to boost instructional leadership skills; the Columbia Readers’ and Writers’ project to boost literacy; input from evaluation teams Corbett and Wilson (Drs. Bruce Corbett and Dick Wilson) and Miller and Davis (Drs. Ted Miller and Lloyd Davis); and various other local and national experts to discuss effective instruction.
  • Visits to high-performing schools: Leadership teams have taken advantage of opportunities to visit high-performing schools both within Hamilton County and in other parts of the country.

Another key focus has been on the use of data to set goals, measure progress, and perhaps most importantly, improve instruction. Participants have examined data down to the level of individual questions on exams so that teachers know what students “get” and what they don’t, which allows the teachers to re-visit and re-teach the missing elements.


  • Reading/language arts: The percentage of middle school students scoring advanced increased from 30 percent in 2005 to 40 percent in 2009. The achievement gap has narrowed from 24 percentage points in 2004 to 14 in 2009 and all students are achieving at higher levels than the 2004 baseline.
  •  Math: The percentage of middle school students scoring advanced increased from 30 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2009. The achievement gap has narrowed from 23 percentage points in 2004 to 15 in 2009 and all students are achieving at higher levels than the 2004 baseline.


In conclusion, there have been profound changes in Hamilton County middle schools. Work toward redesigning these schools is substantive, data-driven and on-going. Networks have been formed to work collaboratively and share best practices. Teachers have gained an arsenal of new instructional strategies and use them in classrooms every day and in all content areas. Students are better readers and writers and are entering high school ready to learn.


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