Putting All the Pieces Together for Students in Dayton, OH

High-quality curriculum, aligned professional learning, data collection and analysis, state support, and sustainable funding. These are all important pieces to the puzzle of strong instructional practice, and people frequently ask for examples of places where they all fit together to support student progress. While we can easily point to cases where some or even most of the puzzle is taking shape, we recently learned of one where there are no missing pieces.

In Dayton, Ohio, Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli is mastering the puzzle of the instructional vision to advance students past the pandemic. She has led efforts to invest recovery ESSER funds in a “dual teaching model,” which has doubled the number of first-, second-, and third-grade teachers district-wide to pair math and literacy teachers together in every Grade 1-3 classroom for three years.

The research on class size reductions suggests they can be helpful for students and teachers, but how they are implemented matters. Small classes seem to matter the most for disadvantaged students in the early grades, especially when the changes result in a meaningful drop in the number of students rather than just a small marginal one. 

The Dayton plan is strategic and thoughtful about its class size reductions. Since the 2021-22 school year, each class has been divided in two during regular classroom instruction. Using high-quality instructional materials as the foundation for both ELA and math, half the students work on literacy and writing while the other half do math lessons – then they switch. This has enabled groups of about ten students to work with a teacher at a time on explicit, standards-based instruction. 

Dr. Lolli’s background as a curriculum specialist comes through when she describes the format of lessons. “A 30-minute lesson includes 10 minutes of direct instruction, 10 minutes of student “we-do” practice in a group setting, and 10 minutes of independent, workshop-type activities,” she explains. “We never give students independent work without direct instruction and group practice first.” The district has also provided aligned teacher training with this model. Each week, teachers have team time for professional learning communities and planning by content area. Expert coaches have come in to provide additional support.

Dayton just finished the second year of implementation and will continue the model for at least one more cycle next school year. We’re especially impressed by the district’s commitment to collecting and analyzing data to study how this intervention is working – including local and state assessment scores over time. Last summer, leaders analyzed the results from year one and found promising gains, reporting a return “to pre-pandemic gap closing levels.” 

The district recently finished the second year of implementation and is reviewing the final data to study the most recent outcomes. They’ll do this a third time next summer and use all of the data to determine whether they want to continue this model, but they’re not wasting any time figuring out where future funding could come from. With ESSER funds expiring, Dr. Lolli has connected with officials from the Ohio Department of Education to explore Title I as an alternative source. 

Kudos to Dayton leaders and educators for their thoughtful work to assemble all the right pieces of the instructional puzzle for kids.

My thanks to Jocelyn Pickford, author of the CurriculumHQ blog, for her partnership on this piece.

About the Author

Chad Aldeman is a nationally recognized expert on education policy, including school finance; teacher preparation, evaluation, and compensation; and state standards, assessment, and accountability. Keep up with Chad on the EduProgess: Unpacked blog.