'Restructuring' needs restructuring

Restructuring of failing schools has failed again and again, writes Robert Manwaring in an Education Sector report. He looks at LA’s Markham Middle School, labeled low-performing in 1997 when the average student scored at the 16th percentile in math and 12th percentile in reading. The state enacted a series of interventions to turn around the school, which enrolls Mexican-American and black students in a gang neighborhood in Watts. Then the feds intervened under No Child Left Behind.

. . . They drew up plans, disbursed funds, and hired specialists. Principals and teachers came and went, while politicians of all stripes vowed to get tough and do what it takes to reform these schools or close them down. Yet, at the end of all that, Markham Middle School was still open for business, still serving low-income and minority students, and still low-performing. In 2009 only 3 percent of the students were proficient in math and 11 percent in English.

The challenge in public education isn’t deciding which schools need help, Manwaring writes. “It’s determining how to help them, and when to decide that no amount of help will do.”

Unfortunately, many states “avoid tough choices,” instead lowering achievement standards to make bad schools look better, he writes.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is targeting turnaround efforts at the lowest 5 percent of schools. We’re not going to “tinker” any more, he says. But what does that mean for a school like Markham?

Markham is one of the LA schools that laid off half its young teachers because of seniority rules, then found veteran teachers refused to take jobs there. So the school, now run by the mayor’s office, is relying on substitutes, who aren’t allowed to teach there long enough to qualify for higher pay.

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  1. Perhaps the reason that restructuring the school didn’t work is because it’s not necessarily an educational problem. This doesn’t mean that I hold schools or teachers blameless, but I firmly believe most chronically bad schools are the result of broken societies, not just broken schools.

    Saddling schools with the responsibility of fixing broken societies is not only unfair, but is an action doomed to failure.

  2. Sadly, I concur with Greg. Schools are a mirror of their community. Focusing *only* on the school is bound to fail.

  3. ChemProf says:

    OK, but let me ask you a question that I haven’t heard a good answer to. If we can’t expect schools to do anything for students in communities that don’t support education, and if we don’t know how to improve those communities, then why exactly should my tax dollars go to those schools? Those communities aren’t producing any tax revenue to speak of, so the rest of us subsidize them. More and more spending hasn’t meant improvement, so what now? What are we really suggesting, other than more of the same?

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    That’s what’s being suggested because any conceivable alternative is unthinkable.
    Suppose those kids had NO PLACE to go in their lives which is connected to the larger, more productive society. No contrast, however fleeting, with the ‘hood.
    Problem is the sharp ones figure it out and leave, leaving the others.


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