School Reform: Who Knows Best?
"This report reveals that eight in 10 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students displaced by school closings transferred to schools ranking in the bottom half of system schools on standardized tests. However, because most displaced students transferred from one low-performing school to another, the move did not, on average, significantly affect student achievement.
The report demonstrates that the success of a school closing policy hinges on the quality of the receiving schools that accept the displaced students. One year after school closings, displaced students who re-enrolled in the weakest receiving schools (those with test scores in the bottom quartile of all system schools) experienced an achievement loss of more than a month in reading and half-a-month in math. Meanwhile, students who re-enrolled in the strongest receiving schools (those in the top quartile) experienced an achievement gain of nearly one month in reading and more than two months in math."From the NY Times article:
"Partly because of the disruption caused by the closings, Mr. Duncan changed strategy after 2006. Instead of closing schools permanently, or for a year, and then reopening with a new staff, he shifted to the turnaround approach, in which the staff of failing schools was replaced over the summer but the same students returned in the fall.The new report focused only on the elementary schools closed permanently from 2001 to 2006, and thus offers no conclusions about the effectiveness of the turnaround strategy."
But Secretary Duncan says turnaround is the way to go. Within the article was a link to another article from Education Next called The Turnaround Fallacy about the history of education reform. It was quite engaging until you get to the part where - the clouds part and the angels sing - the author says the way to go is ... charters. I don't want to discredit the whole article because I thought there were good points. Still, I felt it was overkill for Yay Charters! From the article:
"Looking back on the history of school turnaround efforts, the first and most important lesson is the “Law of Incessant Inertia.” Once persistently low performing, the majority of schools will remain low performing despite being acted upon in innumerable ways."
"The second important lesson is the “Law of Ongoing Ignorance.” Despite years of experience and great expenditures of time, money, and energy, we still lack basic information about which tactics will make a struggling school excellent. A review published in January 2003 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation of more than 100 books, articles, and briefs on turnaround efforts concluded, “There is, at present, no strong evidence that any particular intervention type works most of the time or in most places.”
"And the Obama administration too has bought into the notion that turnarounds are the key to improving urban districts. Education secretary Arne Duncan has said that if the nation could turn around 1,000 schools annually for five years, “We could really move the needle, lift the bottom and change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children.” In the administration’s 2009 stimulus legislation, $3 billion in new funds were appropriated for School Improvement Grants, which aid schools in NCLB improvement status. The administration requested an additional $1.5 billion for this program in the 2010 budget. This is all on top of the numerous streams of existing federal funds that can be—and have been—used to turn around failing schools.
The dissonance is deafening. The history of urban education tells us emphatically that turnarounds are not a reliable strategy for improving our very worst schools. So why does there remain a stubborn insistence on preserving fix-it efforts?
The most common, but also the most deeply flawed, justification is that there are high-performing schools in American cities. That is, some fix-it proponents point to unarguably successful urban schools and then infer that scalable turnaround strategies are within reach. In fact, it has become fashionable among turnaround advocates to repeat philosopher Immanuel Kant’s adage that “the actual proves the possible.”
But as a Thomas B. Fordham Foundation study noted, “Much is known about how effective schools work, but it is far less clear how to move an ineffective school from failure to success…. Being a high-performing school and becoming a high-performing school are very different challenges.”
Now this all sounds right. The article continues with the information that most charters do not do turnarounds (meaning, close a school and change the administration/focus but have the same students come right back to the same school); they open entirely new schools.
And it's here where it all goes to how charters can do it better because they reinvent a school. So why can't that be done by a school district?
"Tom Torkelson, CEO of the high-performing IDEA network agrees: “I don’t do turnarounds because a turnaround usually means operating within a school system that couldn’t stomach the radical steps we’d take to get the school back on track. We fix what’s wrong with schools by changing the practices of the adults, and I believe there are few examples where this is currently possible without meddling from teacher unions, the school board, or the central office.”Okay, I'll bite; where's the oversight?
About Education Next:
In the stormy seas of school reform, this journal will steer a steady course, presenting the facts as best they can be determined, giving voice (without fear or favor) to worthy research, sound ideas, and responsible arguments. Bold change is needed in American K–12 education, but Education Next partakes of no program, campaign, or ideology. It goes where the evidence points.