California has learned how not to fix failing schools, write Bill Evers and Lance Izumi in the San Jose Mercury News.
From 1999 until 2003, California sent contractors into the classroom to observe, find out what was being done improperly and then guide each school in creating a tailored improvement plan. Rescue plans based on classroom observations were hands-on, school-specific and collaborative. But they didn’t work.
Intervention teams ignored academic content and made vague or unworkable suggestions.
Now the rescue effort focuses on the subject-matter content in math and English reading and writing that is found in the California Content Standards and judged by the state to be what students need to know.
. . . Special training now helps teachers make better use of textbooks that cover the required academic content. Teachers use electronically recorded data from state tests and from lesson-based tests to determine student weaknesses.
Under the new approach, district officials monitor school progress. If the school continues to make insufficient progress, the state sends in specialists on the math or English curriculum being taught in the school. The new approach is realistic because it does not expect the state to run hundreds (or thousands) of failing schools from Sacramento, nor does it require principals who are superhuman. Instead, the new approach to school recovery asks for steady, systematic work.
Many plans call for state intervention to help low-performing schools, but many such interventions don’t show impressive results.