New Report by AIR Experts Identifies Effective Strategies Used in Turning Around California’s Schools

Washington, D.C. – A new study of turnaround schools in California has found that successful schools tend to use instructional strategies focused on student subgroups, emphasizing teacher collaboration, and having strong leadership as part of their key strategies to improve performance.

The study, Turnaround Schools in California: Who Are They and What Strategies Do They Use?, was written by experts with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) for the California Comprehensive Center at WestEd.

The study used California achievement data gathered over a seven year period (2003–04 through 2009–10) from public and charter schools, and applied a 10-step process to define turnaround schools. The criteria were developed in collaboration with a group of California education stakeholders and include a definition of initial low performance and academic turnaround for schools in California.

Researchers interviewed principals of turnaround schools and asked them to identify the strategies they believed were responsible for their success. The key elements identified included:

  • Instructional strategies focused on particular subgroups of students, like English learners and students in special education.
  • An emphasis on teacher collaboration, which allows teachers to discuss and analyze their successes and challenges.
  • Strong instructional leadership, including principals being in classrooms regularly and offering feedback to teachers.
  • Regular use of assessments and analysis of data, which helps teachers monitor student progress.
  • Increased parental involvement, which helps parents be more engaged in their children’s school and learning.
  • Guidance and support provided by the school district to bolster schools’ turnaround efforts.
  • Use of student engagement strategies, which encourage a more active level of participation by students.
  • Use of extended learning time, including offering afterschool, Saturday, or support classes.

The report was written by AIR experts Mette Huberman, Tom Parrish, Stephanie Hannan, Melissa Arellanes, and Larisa Shambaugh.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit


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