Evaluation of Battle Creek Public Schools Transformation

By 2017, Battle Creek Public Schools, near central Michigan, had experienced several years of declining enrollment and test scores, as well as high rates of teacher turnover. A five-year, $51 million grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation allowed the new leaders of BCPS the resources and opportunity to transform the district. The school district engaged AIR in fall 2017 to conduct a concurrent evaluation of the transformation process, sharing formative data with district leaders throughout the five-year grant cycle. As the end of the grant approaches, AIR is sharing some findings from the transformation process, the first half of which was pre-pandemic, and the second half intertwined with the challenges of the pandemic.

It’s hard to exaggerate the challenges facing small urban districts in the context of the pandemic. It was gratifying to be in a position to share analyses that provided actionable insights, and sometimes encouraging trends, that could inform district work moving forward.

- Kerstin Le Floch, Principal Investigator

For nearly five years, BCPS has maintained an immersive, comprehensive transformation process to improve human capital, organizational culture, instruction, family engagement, and, ultimately, student outcomes. Funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant was used by district leaders to support and sustain improved practices, with a concerted focus on access to resources and supports, as well as addressing issues of inequity for all students and families, particularly African American males and other students of color. Starting in March 2020, the district enacted a number of strategic steps to engage its community partners and to provide critical ongoing supports—including WiFi hotspots, laptops, food, and wraparound services—as students and their families confronted the challenges of the pandemic.

Over the past five years, AIR has collected original data—through an annual teacher survey, administrator interviews, parent focus groups, and school visits—and has analyzed extant data provided by the district. Throughout this process, AIR experts have shared findings related to student achievement, COVID disruptions to learning, attendance, early childhood education, student discipline, human capital, school culture, instructional practices, supports for English learners, use of evidence, and family engagement.