Turnarounds don't come cheap

To turn around a persistently low-performing Los Angeles high school, the Green Dot charter group will spend an extra $15 million over four years’ foundations will provide most of the funds. The New York Times asks if turnarounds are too costly.

As recently as 2008, Locke High School here was one of the nation’s worst failing schools, and drew national attention for its hallway beatings, bathroom rapes and rooftop parties held by gangs. For every student who graduated, four others dropped out.

Now, two years after a charter school group took over, gang violence is sharply down, fewer students are dropping out, and test scores have inched upward. Newly planted olive trees in Locke’s central plaza have helped transform the school’s concrete quadrangle into a place where students congregate and do homework.

Locke’s $15 million turnaround budget is “more than twice the $6 million in federal turnaround money that the Department of Education has set as a cap for any single school,” the Times reports.

Locke’s teachers voted to turn the huge school into a Green Dot charter in 2008.

Green Dot divided Locke into small academies. Several, modeled on the charters it operates elsewhere, opened in fall 2008 with freshman classes of 100 to 150 students and are to reach full enrollment of 500 to 600 students by fall 2011.

Other academies concentrate on remedial classes for older students, including some returning from jail. Another focuses on preparing students for careers in architecture.

Green Dot required Locke’s 120 teachers to reapply for their jobs. It rehired about 40, favoring teachers who showed enthusiasm and a belief that all Locke students could learn. The campus stays open each day until early evening for science tutoring, band and other activities.

Green Dot is spending on security and busing for students who live in dangerous neighborhoods. It’s also adding classroom space because attendance is up and fewer students are dropping out.

Dividing Locke into academies required adding more staff.  Green Dot also hired two psychologists and two social workers.

Locke’s turnaround will cost $1,250 per student, writes Alexander Russo, who’s writing a book on the school. Some of that replaces lost state funding and some is required by the school’s huge size and very dangerous neighborhood.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sided with local charter schools hoping to take over low-performing schools, reports the LA Times. In the first round of school takeovers, teacher groups were given control of most schools.

California’s 188 lowest-performing schools will get $416 million in federal turnaround money over three years, reports Educated Guess.

But districts won’t learn until late next month how much they’ll be entitled to, leaving virtually no time to prepare teachers and parents for the massive changes the schools will be forced to undergo this fall.

Ohio is giving $31 million in turnaround funding to 11 district-run schools that would be closed for low performance under the rules governing charter schools, notes Flypaper. Ten of the 11 schools will adopt the least rigorous turnaround model; all will have three years to show results.

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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    Locke’s turnaround will cost $1,250 per student

    According to the National Center for Educational Statistics,
    “In 2006-07, current expenditures per student in fall enrollment were $9,683 in unadjusted dollars.” This does not include transportation or capital costs.

    I feel fairly sure that Los Angeles Unified School District spent more than $10,000 for each of its pupils last year. (In a study for the libertarian Cato Institute, Adam Schaeffer says the figure is more like $25,000.
    In any case, $10,000 is an absolute minimum guess.)

    If Green Dot can actually “turn around” the school with an additional 12%, I say it’s cheap.

    However, there has to be a high burden of proof on Green Dot to show they really have made lasting progress. This business is littered with failed initiatives, programs that spent money and seemed to make some progress but eventually showed very little in the way of positive results.

  2. Keep in mind, too, that they haven’t “turned around” test scores in any meaningful way yet. So what does ‘turnaround’ mean, in this context? That they haven’t had any riots on campus lately?

  3. Families have spent large sums on their own kids for a long while – the costs of private schools & universities continue to climb. Even some public schools spend high amounts for some kids if you factor in booster/private funding for particular activities.

    So, it isn’t an unpalatable thing per se that Green Dot will spend a lot on Locke kids to turn the school around. The larger picture implications and longterm effects are veiled, but the fact of “expensive” educations for these kids is something I can rather enjoy.

  4. LSquared says:

    Since the charter schools start out smaller, are the same students attending the school as were attending before Locke was broken up? It sounds to me like they got–at least somewhat–different kids attending after compared to before, so I don’t know how you can compare before and after statistics at all… if there were some way of being sure that the problems hadn’t just been outsourced that would make the improvement more substantial.


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  2. […] amount provided by private foundations to turn around Locke High School, a former LAUSD district school now operated by Green Dot, a Los Angeles-based non-profit […]