ExtraOrdinary Districts: Ordinary school districts that get extraordinary results

A Podcast by The Education Trust

Across the nation, many school districts are asking themselves, “What can we do to better serve our students of color and those from low-income communities?” In Ed Trust’s new podcast, ExtraOrdinary Districts, writer-in-residence Karin Chenoweth explores that question by visiting ordinary school districts that are getting extraordinary results for historically underserved youth.  Whether you’re a principal or parent, a superintendent or school board member, a legislator or just someone who thinks that schools need to do better — this podcast is for you.

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Episode 1: How Do We Know Which Districts are ExtraOrdinary?

Anyone who wants to identify “extraordinary districts” has a daunting challenge: The United States has more than 14,000 school districts and they vary widely. Some school districts have hundreds of students; some have hundreds of thousands. And school districts have a dizzying array of demographics, assessments, and funding structures. How can you reasonably compare one district against another? In this episode, you’ll hear how one of the nation’s leading education researchers has solved that problem, and how his solution provides the basis for our podcast.

Episode 2: Lexington, Massachusetts. At the Top of the Nation

Sitting in the top spot in the country is Lexington, Massachusetts, a school district that, 10 years ago, would not have occupied such a lofty position. In this episode, you will hear from some of the people who did the work to move Lexington forward.

Part 1: Secrets of a High-Performing District
Part 2: Where Do You Start? Everywhere!
Part 3: Building a Learning Community

Episode 3: Steubenville, Ohio. In the Heart of the Rustbelt

Once a thriving small city, Steubenville, Ohio has been devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Many school districts in similar circumstances have seen academic achievement plummet. But in Steubenville’s school district, third and fourth graders are performing at levels toward the top of the country, making it the highest performing high-poverty district in the nation.

Part 1: Changing the Path of Poverty
Part 2: A Program in Service of a Vision
Part 3: Tackling the Secondary Drop-off

Episode 4: Chicago. The Work of a Generation

Which large urban school district “grows” its kids the most academically? Would you believe Chicago? That’s right: Chicago’s third graders now score way below national average, but its eighth graders score about at roughly the national average. That means that kids “grow” about 1.25 academic years every calendar year. No other large or even moderate-sized district can boast the same kind of academic advancement through the years. Not bad for a city that, 30 years ago, the then-U.S. Secretary of Education called the “worst” school district in the country. Listen to this episode to find out how Chicago made such a drastic improvement.

Part 1: Nowhere to Go But Up
Part 2: Stumbling Toward Some Answers
Part 3: On the Ground

Special Edition: ExtraOrdinary Districts Need Extraordinary School Leaders. How Do We Get More of Them?

One of the key lessons that emerged in Ed Trust’s podcast, “ExtraOrdinary Districts,” is that improvement requires leadership at the school level.

This, of course, has been well established in the research literature. But that just raises the next question: If principals are key to school and district improvement, then how do we ensure that principals are prepared to improve schools so that all children — no matter their background — learn and succeed?

That is the subject of a fascinating conversation among three leaders of principal preparation programs and the executive director of the University Council of Educational Administration, who discuss how to create more “extraordinary school leaders.”

Special Edition: Segregation, Integration and the Milford 11

Delaware’s first African American attorney went before the state’s first Catholic judge in 1952 to ask that Delaware’s schools be desegregated. The judge agreed that segregation should be dismantled but that only the U.S. Supreme Court had the power to do so. It did so on May 17, 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education. That September, 11 African American students enrolled in the all-White Milford High School in southern Delaware. For about a week things went smoothly. And then a petty crook arrived, joined by a “pseudo minister” who whipped up segregationist crowds threatening violence to anyone who supported integration. Despite efforts by Delaware’s first Jewish Attorney General to uphold the law of the land, the town was “blown apart” – just as the school board president had predicted. What happened in Milford resonated through all of Delaware and the nation for many years. This special edition of ExtraOrdinary Districts uses archival audio from participants, as well as interviews with Delaware’s former secretary of agriculture Walter Kee and Northwestern University historian Brett V. Gadsden, who put the events of 1954 into perspective.

Recording, editing and mixing by Airshow Mastering. Music composed by Mike Petillo of Airshow Mastering.