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Federal Education Programs » NCLB School Improvement

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As policymakers consider a reauthorized ESEA, let’s try using what we know about federal policies for school improvement.

Author(s): Jennifer McMurrer, Diane Stark Rentner, and Nancy Kober
Published: April 14, 2015

 

What, if anything, can the federal government do to improve persistently low-performing schools and ensure that all students attend effective schools? Congressional efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reveal deep differences on this central question. Many Congressional Republicans say the answer is to substantially reduce the federal role and increase state and local control of education, a philosophy embodied in the Student Success Act reported by the House education committee. Key Congressional Democrats disagree, as do civil rights organizations, the Secretary of Education, and some business leaders; these groups emphasize the importance of maintaining federal protections and tracking achievement for disadvantaged students and providing targeted funding to high-poverty schools. Senate education committee leaders have introduced a bipartisan bill that would retain some federal requirements but give states more latitude in how they hold schools accountable. The bill would also pass responsibility to states and school districts to determine how to improve low-performing schools.

To inform this debate, policymakers of diverse viewpoints can look to a body of research conducted over the past 13 years by the Center on Education Policy. Since 2002, CEP has studied implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, particularly federal policies to improve low-performing schools and raise student achievement. This research includes state and local surveys, case studies, and analyses of test score trends. Summarized below are the main lessons learned from this body of work about the federal role in school improvement. These are by no means the only lessons from this research; all of the study reports on NCLB and school improvement are available for free at www.cep-dc.org.

  1. Allow some flexibility in the use of school improvement funds. School improvement is often a complex, iterative, and evolving process in which school and community context influences choices and implementation. Until very recently, the Obama Administration’s rules for federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs) required recipients to use funds to implement one of four specific reform models. But the one-size fits all approach did not work for many grantees participating in CEP’s research, especially schools in rural areas. It will be important to build some flexibility into any federal role in assisting states and districts with improving schools.
  1. Recognize that even with a more flexible approach, some structure can be helpful in planning and implementing reforms. The federal school reform models, though flawed, did provide a process and a structure that encouraged many low-performing schools to analyze data, consider how they were doing things, and determine how they might improve. For example, by virtue of having to respond to federal requirements to expand learning time, schools often ended up making better use of instructional time in the school day and finding more time for teacher development, planning, and collaboration.
  1. Provide dedicated funding for school and district reform. Federal SIGs were often a welcome source of extra funding because they allowed district and school leaders to try new approaches for improving student learning. Typically, other funding streams received by district and schools were not realistic sources of support for school reform because they were already obligated for salaries and other expenses.
  1. Target a portion of federal dollars on improving the capacity of states and districts to help low-achieving schools. Often state education agencies lack sufficient staff to provide technical assistance on school improvement, while districts lack staff to fashion reform plans and to identify academic, curricular, staffing, or other issues that affect school performance. Although money for improvement is needed at the school level, it’s just as important that federal funds are available to build state and local staffing capacity and expertise to help struggling schools.
  1. Recognize that real change may take longer than a three- or five-year grant cycle. There is a tendency among policymakers to declare a program or a policy a failure if it does not show immediate positive results. It takes time, however, to bring about systemic change and increase student achievement in schools that educate large proportions of low-income and disadvantaged students. For example, many schools that received federal SIGs funds focused the first year or more of their grant on improving school safety, attendance, parent involvement, and other aspects of school climate, which they viewed as a necessary precondition to improving achievement.
  1. Sustain funding for improvement activities. SIGs are provided for a limited number of years on the theory that local or state funds will gradually replace the federal dollars to sustain activities. CEP’s research shows, however, that more often than not when the federal money goes away, so does the reform effort, no matter how promising.
  1. Study and report on school improvement efforts. Although the U.S. Department of Education has released some data on the impact of SIGs, there is much more to be learned about the state, district, and school roles in planning and implementing school improvement. For example, which approaches worked and did not work for states and schools to improve student achievement? And what were the conditions that contributed to the successes and obstacles of these approaches? What is needed is a sustained, multi-tiered federal approach to study school improvement efforts that are underway; this should include funds for localized, timely, and actionable research as well as larger federal data collection and analysis across multiple sites.

CEP’s research points to the need for a balanced federal role in school improvement that reduces some requirements but still provides a degree of structure; that provides dedicated funding for schools, districts, and states to carry out their respective responsibilities; and that allows for sustained support over a sufficient period of time.

Thoughtful policymaking requires attention to lessons from the past, continued attention to emerging information in the present, and a candid discussion of how the past and present can inform the future. We hope that the House and Senate education committee members will take into consideration the valuable research done by CEP and other groups when crafting an ESEA policy on the federal role in improving low-performing schools.

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Special Reports on School Improvement Grants

Author(s): Jennifer McMurrer
Published: July 11, 2012

This series of three special reports examines implementation of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. The first special report, Schools with Federal Improvement Grants Face Challenges in Replacing Principals and Teachers, looks at how states, districts, and schools are addressing challenges related to SIG staffing requirements. The second special report, Increased Learning Time Under Stimulus-Funded School Improvement Grants: High Hopes, Varied Implementation, highlights key findings about state, district, and school experiences related to the requirement to increase student learning time in SIG-funded schools. Findings in these first two special reports draw on survey data from 46 responding states and case study research in Idaho, Maryland, and Michigan, published in earlier CEP studies. The third special report, Changing the School Climate is the First Step to Reform in Many Schools with Federal Improvement Grants, examines the positive changes in school climate experienced by six case study schools that received the federal grants in Idaho, Maryland, and Michigan.

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Opportunities and Obstacles: Implementing Stimulus-Funded School Improvement Grants in Maryland, Michigan, and Idaho

Author(s): Caitlin Scott, Jennifer McMurrer, Shelby McIntosh and Kenne Dibner
Published: March 20, 2012

This report examines the implementation of the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program by drawing on research conducted in three states, seven school districts, and 11 schools -- including schools that were eligible for but did not receive a SIG award. The study looks at how the federal program requirements are working within the state and local context, the progress made during the first year of the three-year grant implementation, and the different approaches being used to improve student achievement in schools that received SIG funds compared to schools that were eligible for but did not receive grants.

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State Implementation and Perceptions of Title I School Improvement Grants under the Recovery Act: One Year Later

Author(s): Jennifer McMurrer and Shelby McIntosh
Published: March 20, 2012

Based on a winter 2011-12 survey of state directors of the federal Title I program, this report examines the first year of state implementation of the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program.  It focuses on state processes for renewing the SIG awards made for school year 2010-11, state assistance to schools, and general perceptions of the ARRA SIG program requirements. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia participated in the survey.

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Federal Efforts to Improve the Lowest-Performing Schools: District Views on School Improvement Grants

Author(s): Nancy Kober, Diane Stark Rentner
Published: November 3, 2011

This report, based on a nationally representative sample of school districts, examines school districts’ perceptions of key requirements and early school district implementation of the Title I school improvement grants programs funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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Turning Around the Lowest Performing Schools: A Noble Goal and a Daunting Challenge

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: April 7, 2011

In this blog posted on April 7, 2011 in the Huffington Post, Jack Jennings describes the intent and weighs the prospects for success of President Obama’s initiative to make improvements in the nation’s lowest performing schools. The blog draws on the research conducted by CEP on schools needing restructuring under NCLB in assessing the chances for major improvement in these lowest performing schools.

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Early State Implementation of Title I School Improvement Grants Under the Recovery Act

Author(s): Jennifer McMurrer, Shelby Dietz, and Diane Stark Rentner
Published: February 23, 2011

This report, based on surveys of state education officials, presents an early look at the states' experiences implementing school improvement grants with funds provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The report offers a baseline understanding of how increased funding and new school improvement grant requirements have impacted the number and types of schools served as well as how state education agencies are using these funds to assist schools targeted by the program.

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Changing Tires En Route: Michigan Rolls Out Millions in School Improvement Grants

Author(s): Caitlin Scott and Kenne Dibner
Published: February 23, 2011

This report examines Michigan's early implementation of the Title I school improvement grant funds provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It looks at how many and what type of schools are receiving funding, the school improvement models being implemented, and the type of assistance provided by the state and districts to help improve low-performing schools. The report includes case studies on three SIG-participating schools: Lincoln High School (Van Dyke Public Schools), Romulus Middle School (Romulus Community School District), and Phoenix Multi-Cultural Academy (Detroit Public Schools).

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School Districts’ Perspectives on the Economic Stimulus Package: School Improvement Grants Present Uncertainty and Opportunity

Author(s): Caitlin Scott and Nancy Kober
Published: August 30, 2010

This report highlights the extent to which school districts have experience with implementing the four federally-mandated school reform models intended to improve the nation’s lowest performing 5% of schools.   Approximately $3 billion was provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for grants to districts to carry out these models.  As of last school year, fewer than 12% of the nation’s school districts had implemented any of the four reform models, and among these districts, there were varying degrees of success with the models.

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Improving Low-Performing Schools: Lessons from Five Years of Studying School Restructuring under No Child Left Behind

Author(s): Caitlin Scott, Nancy Kober
Published: April 13, 2010

On Dec 7, 2009, CEP held a forum in Washington, D.C. to discuss CEP's five-year study of schools in restructuring under NCLB. The event included a discussion of CEP's research on schools in restructuring under NCLB in six states — California, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Ohio — and in 23 districts and 48 schools within those states. Panelist included an official from the U.S. Department of Education, as well as education leaders from states and school districts, and principals of successfully restructured schools. This report summarizes the presentations and discussion at that meeting. 

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CEP Comments on Proposed Requirements for Title I School Improvement Funds

Author(s): CEP
Published: September 30, 2009

On September 24, 2009, the Center on Education Policy submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Education on the proposed requirements for Title I school improvement funds that are provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. CEP's comments are informed by seven years of research on the No Child Left Behind Act, especially detailed work in six states studying their school improvement efforts.

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Beyond Restructuring: Ohio Retools State Support for High-Need Districts Through Differentiated Accountability

Author(s): Maureen Kelleher
Published: September 3, 2009

This report describes Ohio's efforts to assist schools in restructuring during school year 2008-09 and reports on the state's participation in the NCLB differentiated accountability pilot program.

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Differentiating and Simplifying: Transforming School Restructuring under No Child Left Behind in New York

Author(s): Caitlin Scott, Elizabeth Duffrin, Maureen Kelleher
Published: September 3, 2009

This report describes New York’s efforts to assist schools in restructuring during school year 2008-09 and reports on the state's participation in the NCLB differentiated accountability pilot program.

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Intensified Support: Changes in School Restructuring in Georgia under the No Child Left Behind Act

Author(s): Elizabeth Duffrin
Published: September 3, 2009

This report describes Georgia's efforts to assist schools in restructuring during school year 2008-09 and reports on the state's participation in the NCLB differentiated accountability pilot program.

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Mining the Opportunities in Differentiated Accountability: Lessons Learned from the No Child Left Behind Pilots in Four States

Author(s): Caitlin Scott
Published: September 3, 2009

This report examines how four states—Georgia, Maryland, New York, and Ohio—have taken advantage of the flexibility under the Differentiated Accountability Pilot program to help low-performing schools under the No Child Left Behind Act. Launched by the U.S. Department of Education in 2008, the program allows nine states to vary the intensity and type of intervention they use with struggling schools and focus their resources on those with the greatest needs.

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Education Week Commentary: Rethinking 'Restructuring'

Author(s): Jack Jennings, Caitlin Scott, and Nancy Kober
Published: May 26, 2009

On May 13, 2009, Education Week featured an article by CEP drawing conclusions from its five years of work reviewing the restructuring of schools required by NCLB. The piece was written by Jack Jennings, Caitlin Scott, and Nancy Kober.

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Letter to Secretary Duncan on Stimulus Package Issues

Author(s): CEP
Published: May 24, 2009

On May 19, 2009, CEP sent this letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlining the major issues raised in our April 30, 2009 forum regarding the early implementation of the economic stimulus package as it affects states and school districts. 

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Expanding Restructuring and Taking on High Schools: An NCLB Follow-up Report in Michigan

Author(s): Caitlin Scott
Published: April 2, 2009

This report describes Michigan's efforts to assist schools in restructuring during school year 2008-09 and reports on the state's implementation of a growth model to measure student performance for purposes of accountability. 

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Looking For New Ways to Make Progress: School Restructuring in Maryland, 2008-09 Follow-Up Report

Author(s): Brenda Neuman-Sheldon
Published: April 2, 2009

This report describes Maryland's efforts to assist schools in restructuring during school year 2008-09 and reports on the state's participation in the NCLB differentiated accountability pilot program.

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Top Down, Bottom Up: California Districts in Corrective Action and Schools in Restructuring under NCLB

Author(s): Caitlin Scott
Published: April 2, 2009

This report describes California's efforts to assist schools in restructuring during school year 2008-09 and reports on the state's expanded approach to technical assistance, which includes public as well as private providers.

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A Call to Restructure Restructuring: Lessons from the No Child Left Behind Act in Five States

Author(s): Caitlin Scott
Published: September 23, 2008

This report synthesizes findings from CEP's research on how the No Child Left Behind Act's school restructuring requirements are being implemented in Michigan, California, Maryland, Ohio, and Georgia. Document reviews and interviews with state officials were conducted in the five states, and case study research was carried out in 19 districts and 42 schools. Among the report's findings are that more schools have entered restructuring and many remain in that status for multiple years; the "any other" restructuring option is the most popular option in the states studied; and the five states varied greatly in the supports they offered restructuring schools.

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Restructuring Under the No Child Left Behind Act in Maryland: 2007-08 Follow-Up Report

Author(s): Brenda Neuman-Sheldon
Published: September 12, 2008

This report, CEP’s third annual review of Maryland’s efforts to restructure schools under the No Child Left Behind Act, finds that (1) although between school years 2006-07 and 2007-08 the number of schools in the restructuring implementation phase declined slightly, there was a drastic increase in the number of schools entering restructuring planning; (2) more restructuring schools are choosing to replace most or all of their staff (including principals) as a strategy; and (3) the “turnaround specialist” option for restructuring is losing favor in Maryland. The report’s findings are based on interviews with state officials, case studies of four school districts and 10 schools within those districts.

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Uncharted Territory: An Examination of Restructuring Under NCLB in Georgia

Author(s): Elizabeth Duffrin, Caitlin Scott
Published: August 28, 2008

This report describes Georgia's school restructuring efforts under the No Child Left Behind Act, including findings from interviews with state officials and regional administrators and case studies of five schools in three school districts: Atlanta Public Schools, Muscogee County School District, and Stewart County School District. Key findings from the report include: (1) the number of Georgia schools implementing restructuring has declined since 2004 and a substantial number have exited; (2) restructuring plans in Georgia tend to focus on state priorities for school improvement; (3) the small number of schools in restructuring, as well as the state’s willingness to invest additional dollars in improving them, has allowed Georgia to provide intensive intervention in schools; and (4) Georgia imposes requirements beyond those in federal law on schools that have implemented restructuring for two years without making adequate yearly progress. 

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It Takes More Than a Hero: School Restructuring in Ohio Under the No Child Left Behind Act

Author(s): Maureen Kelleher, Caitlin Scott
Published: August 7, 2008

This report describes Ohio's school restructuring efforts under the No Child Left Behind Act, including findings from interviews with state officials and case studies of nine schools in four school districts: Cincinnati Public Schools, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Mansfield City Schools, and Mount Vernon City Schools. Key findings from the report include: (1) despite holding steady for the previous three years, the number of Ohio schools in restructuring rose from 56 schools in 2006-07 to 130 schools in 2007-08; (2) only 7 of the 177 Ohio schools ever in restructuring have successfully exited; (3) districts in Ohio that receive federal improvement funds must share data and permit state officials to visit their schools; and (4) while some Ohio schools have received attention for choosing to replace their entire staffs, most report doing so reluctantly and advise other schools to do so only as a last resort.

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Open Letter to District of Columbia Public School Officials on School Restructuring

Author(s): Jack Jennings and Caitlin Scott
Published: May 28, 2008

To assist officials of the District of Columbia Public Schools with their efforts to develop and implement school restructuring plans consistent with the No Child Left Behind Act, on May 28, 2008, the Center on Education Policy sent an open letter to Chancellor Rhee, State Superintendent Gist, and Board President Bobb outlining the key lessons we have learned from studying the NCLB school restructuring process. CEP has examined school restructuring in Michigan for four years, and restructuring in California and Maryland for three years. This summer, CEP will also issue reports on the restructuring process in Georgia and Ohio. The key lessons shared with DCPS officials are based on examining data related to restructuring in those five states as well as detailed case studies of 19 districts and 42 restructuring schools within those districts.

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The Sit Down Dinner: Formalizing Restructuring Under the No Child Left Behind Act in Michigan

Author(s): Caitlin Scott, Maureen Kelleher
Published: April 22, 2008

This report describes Michigan's school restructuring efforts under the No Child Left Behind Act, and includes findings from case studies of nine schools in four school districts: Detroit Public Schools, Flint Community Schools, Harrison Community Schools, and Willow Run Community Schools. Key findings from the report include (1) more Michigan schools are in restructuring due to a greater number of high schools entering restructuring; (2) the state offers additional assistance and monitoring to restructuring schools through intermediate school districts and other regional entities; (3) turnaround specialists remain the most popular restructuring option; and (4) federal Title I funds increased, but state financial difficulties hinder restructuring.

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Managing More Than a Thousand Remodeling Projects: School Restructuring in California

Author(s): Caitlin Scott
Published: February 7, 2008

This report describes California’s school restructuring under the No Child Left Behind Act, and also includes findings from case studies of nine schools in four school district: Grant Joint Union, Oakland Unified, Palmdale Elementary, and Tahoe-Truckee Joint Unified.

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CEP Testimony on NCLB School Restructuring

Author(s): Caitlin Scott
Published: January 24, 2008

On January 24, 2008, Dr. Caitlin Scott, CEP consultant, testified before California’s Little Hoover Commission about school restructuring under the No Child Left Behind Act. The Little Hoover Commission is an independent state oversight agency that investigates state government operations and aims to promote efficiency, economy, and service. The testimony is based on CEP studies of restructuring in California, Maryland, and Michigan, as well as CEP’s five-year study of NCLB, our annual reports on Title I funding, and our 2007 study of state capacity.

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Making Mid-Course Corrections: School Restructuring in Maryland

Author(s): Brenda Neuman-Sheldon
Published: December 5, 2007

This report describes findings from case studies of 10 Maryland schools undergoing restructuring in accordance with the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The ten schools are located in four school districts in Maryland: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public Schools; Baltimore County Public Schools; and Prince George’s County Public Schools. Interviews were also conducted with state officials.

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Beyond the Mountains: An Early Look at Restructuring Results in California

Author(s): Caitlin Scott
Published: March 1, 2007

This study examines the No Child Left Behind Act's restructuring process in California. The number of California schools in NCLB restructuring nearly doubled in the last year, increasing from 401 schools in 2005-06 to 701 in 2006-07, or roughly 8% of California schools. CEP's study found that California schools in restructuring implementing multiple reform efforts tailored to individual school needs were more likely than other schools in restructuring to meet AYP targets in English language arts.

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What Now? Lessons from Michigan About Restructuring Schools and Next Steps Under NCLB

Author(s): Caitlin Scott
Published: March 1, 2007

CEP's third review of school restructuring in Michigan finds that over half of Michigan's 90 restructuring schools improved student achievement enough to meet the state's AYP targets for two consecutive years, allowing them to graduate out of the school improvement designation altogether. A CEP analysis of the restructuring approaches used indicates that no single factor is most responsible for improving student achievement. Instead, schools that implemented five or more reforms over the past two years were significantly more likely to exit restructuring than were other restructuring schools.

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Building on State Reform: Maryland School Restructuring

Author(s): Brenda Neuman-Sheldon
Published: September 20, 2006

This report summarizes the State of Maryland’s strategy in dealing with 79 schools that are in NCLB’s restructuring phase because they have missed adequate yearly progress targets for five or more consecutive years. The report also highlights several schools in restructuring or planning for restructuring in Prince George’s County Public Schools, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

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Wrestling the Devil in the Details: An Early Look at Restructuring in California

Author(s): CEP
Published: February 1, 2006

This look at selected school districts in California that are restructuring under the No Child Left Behind Act may offer insights for other schools that must reevaluate their structures.

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Hope but No Miracle Cures: Michigan's Early Restructuring Lessons

Author(s): Caitlin Scott, Nancy Kober, Diane Stark Rentner, Jack Jennings
Published: November 1, 2005

Progress report on three Michigan school districts undergoing the restructuring phase of the No Child Left Behind Act.

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Makeovers, Facelifts, or Reconstructive Surgery: An Early Look At NCLB School Restructuring In Michigan

Author(s): Caitlin Scott
Published: November 1, 2004

Examination of the restructuring phase mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act in three Michigan school districts.

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