Turnaround and down the drain

School turnarounds rarely work, writes Andy Smarick on Education Gadfly. homas B. Fordham Institute – The Education Gadfly. We don’t know how to transform very low-performing schools and we don’t have enough good people to throw at the job. Nevertheless, the federal government is putting billions of dollars into the School Improvement Fund in hopes of transforming 5,000 failing schools in five years.

. . . while the verbiage is new, many of the details are remarkably similar to tactics tried in the past — replacing staff, improving professional development, providing more site-based control, changing curriculum, etc. In many ways the total package is eerily reminiscent of the interventions under NCLB’s corrective action and restructuring.

Under NCLB, districts avoided controversial strategies, instead going for  “meek interventions, like professional development or turnaround specialists,” Smarick writes. The new plan “will allow lukewarm reforms to pass for meaningful change.”

We should all pause to consider that, if the administration gets its way with the 2011 budget — meaning another $900 million for turnarounds — the federal government, in just a few years, will have invested approximately $5 billion in an area with consistently poor results via previously ineffectual strategies. If we include the significant portion of RTTT funding that will be used for the same purposes (such efforts make up one of four program priorities) the figure swells to over $6 billion.

Education Week has more on the turnaround plans.

Update:  Four percent of students pass state exams. Attendance averages 54 percent. Forty-one percent earn a diploma. Chicago’s Marshall High has been “on the district’s probation list for as long as some freshmen have been alive,”  reports the New York Times. Now it’s slated for a turnaround. That will mean “building improvements” and “new textbooks, technology and supplies.” Plus the new curriculum will be replaced with a newer curriculum. The new principal may be replaced with a newer principal.

Any student reading below a sixth-grade level would be placed in an intensive reading program. Community organizations would be invited to help with mentoring, counseling and other needs.

Current teachers could reapply for their jobs, a mechanism for removing ineffective teachers. At other turnarounds, 15 percent to 20 percent of staff members return, Mr. Fraynd said. All staff members would undergo training, including three weeks of instruction on a new discipline program designed to help students understand how they have misbehaved rather than being purely punitive.

Can this school be saved? It doesn’t seem likely, even if they’ve finally figured out that semi-literate students need an intensive reading class.

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