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Over the last few decades, state legislative and executive branches, as well as state departments of education have taken increasingly active roles in governing local school districts by creating policies to measure and define school performance. Many efforts have involved the development and implementation of policies that define schools that need improvement or need be “turnaround”. On December 10, 2015 President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which called on states to continue their work of identifying and offering remedies for struggling schools. However, ESSA offered greater flexibility in approaches than its 2001 predecessor No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

To understand state approaches to governing school turnaround, we conducted a content analysis of the accepted 52 plans (50 states plus Washington D.C and Puerto Rico, which have their own boards of education). We focused on content related to three intervention categories as defined by ESSA (2015): Targeted Support and Interventions (TSI), Comprehensive Support and Interventions (CSI) and More Rigorous Interventions (MRI). We then studied secondary sources that analyzed and categorized the approved plans. We finally created our own data table with 25 categories of data after using our own inductive analysis combined with secondary sources to create a framework to categorize state approaches to governing school turnaround. we studied 52 state plans submitted and approved under ESSA.

We discovered that states utilized diverse methods for the three low performing school categorized demarcated by ESSA: TSI-Targeted Support and Intervention; CSI-Comprehensive Support and Intervention; and MRI-More Rigorous Intervention. While ESSA was designed to provide greater flexibility to states, and state-level and contextually sensitive flexibility is desirable, our analysis reveals a significant and wide variation in categorical definitions and identification of turnaround schools. The states in which schools are located has a significant impact and whether and how schools are supported and sanctioned under ESSA.

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