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UMass Donahue Institute’s Applied Research and Evaluation Unit releases study of ESE Commonwealth Pilot Schools Initiative

In November 2006, four schools identified as candidates for designation as “chronically underperforming” schools were invited by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to convert to Commonwealth Pilot Schools. These included:


  1. Academy Middle School in Fitchburg
  2. John J. Duggan Middle School in Springfield
  3. Roger L. Putnam Vocational High School in Springfield
  4. The English High School in Boston

Each had been in underperforming status for four years or more. As Commonwealth Pilots, they were granted increased autonomy over school operations and provided with technical assistance from the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE), in return for increased accountability. At the heart of each school’s reform effort was a “Design Plan” approved by the BOE in spring 2007. In June 2008, they completed their first full year as Commonwealth Pilot Schools.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) contracted with the UMass Donahue Institute to conduct an evaluation of the progress and outcomes associated the implementation of school Design Plans. Preliminary findings are presented in an evaluation report released by ESE titled: Year One Report: Intermediate Outcomes of the Commonwealth Pilot School Model. This report highlights key changes, preliminary outcomes, and lessons learned through the first full year of the Commonwealth Pilot Schools Initiative.

Among the key findings is significant progress with regard to the implementation of school-level changes. While there was substantial variation across schools, the report concluded that:

  • Personnel autonomy has resulted in dramatic changes in school staffing
  • Scheduling autonomy has resulted in immediate changes to students’ time in learning; but only incremental changes to curriculum and assessment to-date
  • Much of the new time in school schedules is used to support the development of collaborative, professional learning communities
  • New programs and structures have been installed to “personalize” the school environment
  • New Commonwealth Pilots School governance structures are now operational
  • CCE technical assistance was focused primarily on developing school capacity and systems, and was generally well received

Educators who were with their school both before and after its conversion to a Commonwealth Pilot were asked to assess the preliminary impacts of conversion:

  • Perceptions of impact varied across schools. However, staff of most schools observed a net improvement on a range of indicators of school operation and quality
  • Across all schools there was a general consensus that the Commonwealth Pilot Schools Initiative is moving their school in the right direction
  • Acknowledging an extended work day and sweeping reforms being made within the schools, program sustainability emerged as a central concern as schools look forward

A copy of the full report can be accessed at the web site of ESE’s Office of Strategic Planning, Research, and Evaluation, This Initiative remains ongoing. In FY09, its evaluation will turn to focus more explicitly on student outcomes, as those data become available.

Related Documents:

An Evaluation of the Commonwealth Pilot School Initiative - Year One Report (PDF 0.6 MB)

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