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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