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.


Check out the results of Springfield's five-year “Springfield Collaboration for Change” initiative below.

Lee County, FL (2011)


  • Total Enrollment – 89,143 
  • Student Poverty – 70%
  • Diversity – 52% (Black: 15%, Hispanic: 35%)
  • Teacher Retention – 93%


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 – 51,928
  • Student Poverty – 73%
  • Diversity – 70% (Black: 26%, Hispanic: 33%) 
  • Teacher Retention – 92%  


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 initiative of the Columbus Education Association, Columbus City Schools & the United Way of Central Ohio.


In 2010, the Columbus Education Association, Columbus City Schools, and the United Way of Central Ohio launched the 100% Project, with funding support from the NEA Foundation. Over the last 5 years, the NEA Foundation has provided more than $1.25M in grants to the partnership to support their collective efforts to close achievement gaps in the Briggs and Linden-McKinley feeder patterns, a total of 14 schools. 


Key Strategies

The initiative sought to improve student learning outcomes via a focus and investment on instructional quality and teacher effectiveness. Specifically, teacher effectiveness was enhanced via: 

  • The Resident Educator Program – a district-wide expansion of the second year of Peer Assistance and Review (PAR II), which was piloted in the 100% Project schools – that provides evaluation and mentoring support to all teachers in their first four years of teaching.
  • Improved use of Professional Development, including facilitated Professional Learning Communities (called Teacher Based Teams or TBTs) that provided space for teachers to collaborate and observe one another’s practice, and
  • Expanded community engagement and competence via teacher home visits and parent-to-parent training for families in the 100% Project schools.



  • More than 1,100 visits were made by teachers to students’ homes over the course of the grant. Principals and teachers both confirmed that doing so made them more holistic view of their students and were more comfortable partnering with parents to ensure student success.
  • The sustained commitment to teacher effectiveness and quality built resulted in 45 teachers engaging in training in pursuit of National Board Certification this year. Of those, 38 submitted a complete application for certification by the June 2015 deadline.
  • Participating teachers value the teacher-based team time, indicating that it has a positive impact on their schools. The additional planning time has led teachers to be more collaborative, less isolated, and equipped them to use data more effectively to assess gaps in student learning.  Additionally 90% of teachers were rated as either skilled or accomplished during their annual review.
  • There are clear signs that students are learning and succeeding. There have been significant increases in 3rd grade reading and math scores, gains on high school student performance and improvements in the graduation rate over the life of the grant.


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Springfield, MA (2010)


  • Teacher Retention – 84%
  • Total Enrollment – 25,729
  • Student Poverty – 87%
  • Student Diversity – 86.5%
    • 61% Hispanic
    • 20% Black
    • 5.5% Other


Description of Work
The Springfield Collaboration for Change (SCC) is a partnership between Springfield Education Association (SEA), Springfield Public Schools (SPS), and a number of community partners including United Way of Pioneer Valley, the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, the Springfield Housing Authority, among others, to raise academic achievement for all students while eliminating achievement gaps among Latino/Hispanic, African American, and low-income students.  The NEA Foundation provided more than $1.25 million in grants to the partnership to support their collective efforts.

Key Strategies

The SCC Initiative, implemented in five elementary schools, Boland, Bowles, Dorman, Sumner, and Walsh, is designed to increase instructional effectiveness via: 


  • Deep collaboration between union, district, and community stakeholders
  • Embedded professional development for teachers
  • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and data-driven team meetings
  • Parent-teacher home visits
  • Expanded learning (via summer program) for students and teachers



  • Union District Collaboration: The joint work designing the SCC initiative in five schools also strengthened the relationship between local association and district leadership, which, in turn, changed the way that they implemented education policy over the same period. Examples include: 


    • Collaborative development of new teacher evaluation system. Teachers will have an active role in the evaluation process through: self-assessment, goal setting, collecting artifacts of work, and carrying out an “Educator Plan” to meet improvement goals.
    • Contract also boasts a very concrete endorsement of collaboration as a means to advance student achievement and close the achievement gap.


  • Educator Perceptions: 


    • Educators in grant-funded schools reported a significant increase in the quality and quantity of professional learning opportunities (PLCs, embedded peer coaching, etc.)
    • Educators in grant-funded schools report increased influence on decisions related to the nature and content of professional development.


  • Family Engagement:


    • Parent communication: Communications to families (letters, phone calls) increased significantly in grant-funded schools over the same period. By 2014, 3 communications were sent for every four students in grant-funded schools, as compared to one for every six students in a comparison schools.
    • Home Visits: Home visits also increased significantly for grant-funded schools. In 2014, there was one home visit for every six students in SCC schools.  These visits have tripled since 2011.  There are many fewer home visits in comparison schools.


  • Student Learning:


    • Students in the grant-funded schools also showed larger improvements in the number of students scoring proficient in English, math, and science.
    • Students attending grant-funded schools demonstrated greater reductions in absenteeism than in a comparison group of schools within Springfield Public Schools
    • Students attending grant-funded schools demonstrated greater reductions in percent of students suspended, in out-of-school suspensions, and in the length of in-school suspensions, as compared to students in the comparison group of schools within Springfield Public Schools.


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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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