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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Educator Effectiveness

July 2020


What research is available on the impact of state-level school support teams on low-performing schools?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and policy overviews on the impact of state education agency-provided school support teams on low-performing schools. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Davis, D., Krasnoff, B., Ishimaru, A., & Sage, N. (2010). What are the characteristics, qualifications, roles, and functions of school support teams? An examination of survey results for four Northwest Region states (Issues & Answers. REL 2010-No. 095). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (2002) requires state education agencies to assist chronically low-performing schools and districts by providing statewide systems of intensive and sustained support. One element of this support is the deployment of school support teams that work as external facilitators of improvement in schools and districts designated as in need of improvement. Across states, the basic roles of school support team members are comparable, but titles, qualifications, and functions vary. While existing research describes statewide systems of support and school support team structures, it does not provide information about individuals who serve on the teams. An early case study examined the role of experienced educators who were contracted to help build capacity for change, but it gave no insight into their functions. There has been little study of school support team members as currently deployed in schools and districts across the Northwest Region. This study expands on the current literature by focusing on school support team member characteristics, qualifications, roles, and functions in four Northwest Region states: Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. This study finds that team members in four Northwest regions states share many characteristics and qualifications and work primarily in schools, meeting with administrators on school improvement planning and implementation. Team members differ in time spent on the activities that support these functions.”

Davis, D., Krasnoff, B., Moilanen, C., Sather, S., & Kushman, J. (2007). How Northwest Region states are supporting schools in need of improvement (Issues & Answers. REL 2007-No. 009). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study examines the systems of technical assistance and support that Northwest Region states implemented during 2005-2006 for schools in need of improvement. By highlighting key characteristics and differences among state systems, the intent is to stimulate an analysis of what states can do and what issues they might address to move schools out of in need of improvement status. Building on the requirements of the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires states to create an accountability system that tracks progress toward all students’ proficiency in math and reading. To increase accountability, schools are required to make adequate yearly progress by meeting state-established proficiency levels set to rise incrementally to the NCLB mandate of 100 percent by 2014. Efforts in Washington, Montana and Oregon point to early positive effects of assisting schools by employing external facilitators such as school support teams and teachers, principals or administrators who are knowledgeable about research-based programs and instructional practices and may have experience with school reform, and methods for improving educational opportunities. All Northwest Region states cited professional development as an important element of their statewide systems of support. School staff throughout the region engages in school-, district- or state-based professional development geared to their school improvement efforts. Many schools require some level of continued assistance beyond the initial intensive support they receive from their districts or the state. As states and districts provide support for schools facing increasingly stringent NCLB requirements, common strategies are emerging, such as providing professional development for principals and assigning external facilitators such as school support teams to provide consistent support. Challenges such as large percentages of rural and remote schools, high numbers of non-English-speaking and special education students, and local control issues all preclude the emergence of one overarching best solution. At this time a better understanding of the critical success factors and conditions that optimize the improvement process is needed to assist policymakers as they develop their statewide systems of support.”

Dunn, L., & Ambroso, E. (2019). Balancing act: State and district roles in school improvement under ESSA. Sacramento, CA: Center on School Turnaround at WestEd. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in 2015, signaled a major shift in the roles of states and districts in supporting school improvement. Under ESSA, state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) have more responsibility and flexibility in developing and implementing plans, informed by local context, to support the bottom 5 percent of schools, high schools with graduation rates of less than 67 percent, and schools with chronically struggling subgroups of students. The purpose of this brief from the Center on School Turnaround (CST) at WestEd is to provide examples of how states and districts are working together to improve low-performing schools under ESSA. This brief includes a description of state and district roles in school improvement based on an analysis of 23 state ESSA plans. It also provides examples, based on interviews, of how 10 states are carrying out those roles.”

Hanna, R. (2013). State education reform within reach? Exploring the effectiveness of state support teams for districts and schools. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Since Congress enacted the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, the federal government has emphasized states’ shared responsibility for improving student achievement. When Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act, it called upon states to provide technical support to schools. Specifically, Congress asked states’ education agencies to organize ‘school support teams’ to work closely with school and district staff on school improvement. In theory, the task of support teams is straightforward: Improve the performance of districts and schools. But there is nothing simple about what support teams do. This issue brief explores one part of states’ work for school improvement—specifically, how state support teams have improved school performance. This brief also considers what issues school leaders face and how these support teams have attempted to help schools meet these challenges. The brief includes some examples of support teams that have changed the ways district and school leaders do their work, but their impact to date on student achievement has been limited. It also explores three themes that emerged in this examination of support teams: (1) State support-team effectiveness varies widely; (2) State support teams in their current form may have done little to improve student achievement; and (3) State support teams, if they are to become a more effective reform strategy, may require some redesign.”

Klute, M. M., Welp, L. C., Yanoski, D. C., Mason, K. M., & Reale, M. L. (2016). State policies for intervening in chronically low-performing schools: A 50-state scan (REL 2016-131). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Recent federal initiatives such as School Improvement Grants and Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility emphasize the role of state education agencies in improving chronically low-performing schools. But state policies limit what actions state education agencies can take. As state education leaders and policymakers consider how best to intervene to improve these schools, they may wish to learn about the policies in other states. This report summarizes current policies in all 50 states related to state interventions in chronically low-performing schools. The policies describe the types of interventions that states are legally authorized to implement; however, states likely vary in the extent to which they actually implement the interventions. Six categories of policies related to intervening in chronically low-performing schools were identified: (1) Development or monitoring of school improvement plans; (2) Changes in staffing; (3) Closing a school; (4) Financial incentives or interventions; (5) Reforms to the day-to-day operation of the school; and (6) Changes related to the entity that governs or operates the school. State policies show a great deal of consistency in approaches to supporting chronically low-performing schools, perhaps because many of the interventions align closely with federal guidance for improving these schools. Despite strong alignment of state policies with federal guidance, state policies vary in the breadth of interventions they allow states to implement. About a third of states have policies in all six categories of interventions. Seven states have more limited options, with policies allowing interventions in only two or three of the six categories. State policies also vary in the specific interventions allowed within each category. This report can help state education leaders and policymakers learn how other states are approaching the challenge of turning around their chronically low-performing schools, which can facilitate communication among states that are considering similar approaches. The following are appended: (1) Procedures used to search for and code state laws and regulations; (2) Policies in place in each state by intervention category; and (3) Sources of policies by intervention category and state.”

Learning Point Associates. (2009). School restructuring: What works when? A guide for education leaders. Naperville, IL: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this guide is to help chronically struggling schools restructure. ‘Restructuring’ means major, rapid changes that affect how a school is led and how instruction is delivered. Restructuring is essential in achieving rapid improvements in student learning. The focus is on helping education leaders choose strategies that result in rapid improvement, even when the complete culture change to sustain that improvement may take upward of three years. This guide may be used by any districts (called ‘local education agencies’ or LEAs) or states (called ‘state education agencies’ or SEAs) choosing change strategies for schools where large, swift improvement is needed to meet students’ academic needs. It also may be used by districts considering school restructuring to meet the requirements of ESEA and SIG. The guide is organized to support the restructuring process at each step. Individual chapters contain references and resources.”

McMurrer, J., & McIntosh, S. (2012). State implementation and perceptions of Title I School Improvement Grants under the Recovery Act: One year later. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), also known as the stimulus package, appropriated $100 billion for education and included $3 billion for school improvement grants (SIGs) to help reform low-performing schools. This amount was in addition to the $546 million provided by the regular fiscal year 2009 appropriations bill for school improvement grants authorized by section 1003(g) of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Title I is the large federal program that provides assistance to low-income schools to improve achievement for students who struggle academically.) This fiscal year 2009 total of more than $3.5 billion for section 1003(g) SIGs represents a seven-fold increase over the previous year’s appropriation. Following passage of ARRA, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) changed the requirements for using school improvement grants under section 1003(g), including the ARRA SIG funds (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). These revised requirements target section 1003(g) funds on the ‘persistently lowest-achieving’ schools within each state, typically the lowest 5%, and limit these schools to using one of four school improvement models. These models include (1) transformation, which entails replacing the school principal and undertaking three other specific reforms; (2) turnaround, which involves replacing the principal and many of the school staff; (3) restart, which means becoming a charter or privately managed school; and (4) school closure. According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Education, 1,228 of the nation’s lowest-achieving schools were awarded ARRA SIGs as of March 21, 2011 (Hurlburt et al., 2011). This report looks at states’ experiences in using this infusion of ARRA SIG funding and implementing the new requirements. It is a follow-up to a 2011 CEP report that examined states’ early experiences in implementing ARRA SIG grants (CEP, 2011). Both this report and the earlier one are based on surveys of state department of education personnel. For this 2012 report, the authors administered a survey to state Title I directors from November 2011 through early January 2012 that focused on state processes for renewing the ARRA SIG grants made for school year 2010-11, state assistance to schools, and general perceptions of the ARRA SIG program. A total of 46 states responded, including the District of Columbia, which is counted as a state in all tallies in the report. Several key findings are evident from the authors’ analysis of the survey data: (1) States are generally positive about the ARRA SIG requirements; (2) The transformation school improvement model remains the most popular model chosen by schools in responding states; (3) Most of the states responding to the survey (35 of 46) renewed all of the ARRA SIG awards made in school year 2010-11 for a second year of funding in 2011-12; (4) All of the responding states reported providing technical support to ARRA SIG-funded schools and their districts, and most are providing other types of assistance; (5) More than half of the responding states indicated that they have an adequate level of staff expertise in their state education agency (SEA) to assist ARRA SIG recipients; and (6) Most states (32) reported that external providers played a role in implementing the ARRA SIG program during the first year of funding.”

Player, D., & Katz, V. (2016). Assessing school turnaround: Evidence from Ohio. The Elementary School Journal, 116(4), 675–698. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Policy makers have struggled to find successful approaches to address concentrated, persistent low school achievement. While NCLB and the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program have devoted significant time and attention to turnaround, very little empirical evidence substantiates whether and how these efforts work. This study employs a comparative interrupted time series (CITS) to examine a sample of 20 Ohio schools that participated in a school turnaround program and finds participating schools experienced meaningful improvements in student achievement after completing the 2-year program, which persisted and grew in the 2 years subsequent to the completion of the program. Improved student achievement is not wholly concentrated within specific performance categories, suggesting that participation in the program is associated with increases in overall student performance rather than focusing only on students at the margin of proficiency. These results provide some of the first causal evidence of the potential efficacy of focused school improvement efforts.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center for School Turnaround & Improvement –

From the website: “The Center for School Turnaround and Improvement (CSTI) at WestEd is a nationally recognized leader in the research and development of solutions that support systemic improvement for all schools. We work with you at all levels—from SEAs to districts to individual schools—to identify and help sustain evidence-based, promising practices that ensure equity and drive systemwide change for rapid improvement.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Low achievement” school support

  • “Low achievement” state departments of education

  • Low performing schools

  • School support team

  • State support team

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.