Promise to Practice – A Thorough Review of School Improvement in 17 States

A year ago, the Collaborative for Student Success released a comprehensive expert evaluation of the fifty accountability plans states created under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

As a natural extension of that analysis, today we are pleased to announce the results of an independent peer review of current school improvement efforts in 17 states. This project – a follow on to our Check State Plans evaluation – is called Promise to Practice and analyzes the efforts currently underway to improve education in underperforming schools. These 17 states were chosen to be reviewed in this initial round because they had the most publicly-available information at the start of the peer review process.

Four Things to Know About Promise to Practice:

  1. Equity is the most important education issue of our time. By improving low-performing schools, reformers face one of the most challenging and persistent education problems, complicated by an uncertain evidence base, growing political tension, and gigantic resource requirements. In short, there is a dire need to identify and applaud consensus on best practices and promote these methods to policymakers across the country.
  2. The present opportunity to improve equity is crucial and unique. This project identified a number of best practices that should be emulated by other states looking to move forward on this work. However, the peer reviewers and report authors also identified five troubling trends where state after state has fallen short. One of these concerning trends is a lack of focus on equity across most states’ school improvement work.
  3. This exceptionally qualified team of evaluators followed a rigorous process. The Collaborative was joined by experts at HCM Strategists and Education First, along with nearly two dozen peer reviewers, including former chiefs and school improvement specialists. The team, led by Elizabeth Ross, evaluated states across eight “policy levers.” Policymakers from all 17 states had an opportunity to review our findings and provide additional information. This graphic shows how our team worked together.
  4. This work is challenging, but there are proven techniques to improve low-performing schools. In the report there are 17 recommendations from peer reviewers for states looking to do this work effectively. The states in our review have hit the ground running on their school improvement efforts, with varying degrees of success, and the remaining 33 have an opportunity to use Promise to Practice to ensure they are approaching this work incorporating those best practices and including proven levers to improve equity and close achievement gaps. These are bipartisan recommendations from a group of independent experts and their advice is constructive and their recommendations are evidenced-based, and states would be taking a concerted step in the right direction to take the information and put it to practice in their own efforts.


To learn from our findings, we have created a series of documents including a national report, a press release for the national report, 17 customized state reports, and press releases for 17 state reports. All of these materials can be found at Also click here to share about Promise to Practice on social media

Additionally, The74 Million, a nonprofit, nonpartisan national news organization covering K-12 education, has developed an interactive map for stakeholders to examine state’s results, compare equity approaches, and learn how to help students succeed. This will also be a clearinghouse for all state-specific school improvement documents and guidance. Please visit:


For some, this report will confirm their fears that, left to their own devices, states will chose the path of least resistance. There is no doubt that in some states that is true. However, our hope is that this review is a useful tool to state education leaders, educators, stakeholders, and advocates as they grapple with the right leadership models, policies, and interventions to dramatically improve their lowest performing schools. In a noisy political environment that changes daily, this is one equity gap that if given the prioritization, rigor, energy and resources it deserves, could be closed.

As always, I welcome your feedback and appreciate our partnership.

Jim Cowen is the Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success