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THE LEARNING NETWORK
To ensure all students can succeed, Cross & Joftus believes state departments of education and school districts must develop an understanding of their shared challenges, create focused and aligned systems of support for schools, and work strategically and collaboratively to improve instruction. We created a partnership approach, called The Learning Network, to develop this understanding. We help the state education agency and its most struggling districts establish a Learning Network to turn around chronically low-performing schools and to increase capacity to raise achievement and close significant gaps in student learning. This approach engages professionals directly in improving results and bypasses less-effective, top-down attempts at reform. They assess needs, establish strategic priorities, gain essential technical assistance, and collaborate with peers across the state. They work as partners to establish a better understanding of roles, strategy, challenges, responsibilities, and available resources at the state and district levels.



Key Elements of The Learning Network
Key elements of the approach include Cross & Joftus experts, needs assessment, technical support, and collaboration among Learning Network members. These elements support the partnership of the state, the districts, and the schools in their efforts to ensure all children can succeed (see figure).




Cross & Joftus Experts
A support team from Cross & Joftus is assigned to work with each district and the state as the partners navigate data collection, needs analysis, and implementation. Our team members are chosen based on their area of expertise and demonstrated experience to address the issues confronting each district and the state. The assigned team provides individualized assistance and helps strengthen the working partnership between the state education agency and school district. If necessary, experts are added to the team to assist on specific topics.


Needs Assessment
Each Learning Network district and the state education agency host a three-day visit during which a team of experts and peers implements a research-based process—the Process for Advancing Learning Strategies for Success (PALSS). Designed by Cross & Joftus, this process aims to identify strengths and weaknesses of the instructional delivery and support system; determine the degree of systemic coherence; and develop the capacity of administrators and teachers to improve instruction on a continuous basis. PALSS incorporates three key activities: interviews, surveys, and classroom observations. The findings of these activities are incorporated into a final report that the host district or state can use to share the findings with stakeholders, develop a technical support strategy, and begin work on a new or improved strategic plan.

Technical Support
The needs assessment report identifies key challenge areas that could benefit from the help of an external expert or a team of experts. With the help of Cross & Joftus, the district or state identifies up to three priority issues to receive immediate attention and build internal capacity. This support is provided by the assembled team of Cross & Joftus experts or a technical support provider of the client’s choosing.


Collaboration
Three times throughout the year, participating district leaders and the state education agency gather to share both challenges and solutions. These meetings provide an opportunity for participants to exhibit their work, ask questions of their knowledgeable peers, and establish connections for future collaboration. In addition, each district sends members of its leadership team to participate in the needs assessment visits of at least two other member districts. In between Learning Network meetings and needs assessment visits, the districts and the state education agency are encouraged to seek support from one another via e-mail, phone, and in-person visits. These collaborative activities reinforce a culture of continuous improvement as participants are regularly encouraged to look at their own data and practice as well as learn about innovations their peers are using.

Funding Opportunities for Learning Network Implementation
Approximately $3 billion in school improvement grants, made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), was sent to states in Fall 2009. In addition, Title I, Part A stimulus funds and funds for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) were released in 2009. Four percent of Title I, Part A funding is reserved for school improvement under section 1003 (a).

The Kansas State Department of Education utilizes Title I and IDEA funding to implement The Learning Network. The Learning Network addresses one of four required ARRA reforms—supporting effective intervention strategies for the lowest performing schools. The stimulus package has allowed Kansas to expand the program to include a total of 17 districts.



For more details on The Learning Network, please download this brochure.

To inquire about bringing The Learning Network approach to your state, please contact Scott Joftus, at scott@edstrategies.net or 301-229-3049, or Torrey Shawe, at torrey@edstrategies.net or 202-669-5544.