Turnaround … not so much

“Turnaround” schools didn’t turn very far, despite billions of dollars in School Improvement Grant (SIG) money, reports the U.S. Education Department. Two thirds of low-performing schools showed some improvement;  one third got even worse. What Ed Week calls “mixed results,” Andy Smarick labels “disappointing but completely predictable.”

Twenty-five percent of schools made “double-digit” gains in reading and 15 percent in math, which could mean a 10 percent gain from a very low base, Smarick points out.  ”They are schools that went from really, really, really low-performing to really, really low-performing.”

“Single-digit” gains — as little as 1 percent — were reported by 40 percent of schools  in math and 49 percent in reading.

Yes, it’s only the first year, but the first year is the easiest, writes Smarick.

 Historically, schools subject to “turnaround” attempts are so low-performing that improvement efforts often see early gains. These schools are in such dire straits that initial quick-win efforts like instituting a school-wide curriculum or bringing a modicum of order to classrooms will bring about a bump in performance. The problem in the past has been sustaining and building on the gains made in year one. I can’t recall a study of previous turnarounds that showed so many schools falling farther behind after interventions.

Some SIG schools were improving before they received the grants, but then slid back, notes Ed Week.

 Twenty-six percent of schools in the program were on a trajectory to improve their math scores, but declined once they entered the SIG program, while 28 percent of schools where math scores had been slipping began to show improvement after getting the grant. In reading, 28 percent of schools that had been showing gains before SIG actually lost ground once they got the grant. A smaller percentage of schools, 25 percent, had been showing sluggish improvement in reading before the grant and began to improve once they got the funding.

So it looks like a wash — a very expensive wash.

Focus on elementary schools, where there’s a chance of success, suggests RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. Students are too far behind by middle school.

Unless the schools engage in intensive reading and math remediation with students, simply engaging in some curricula changes  (and offering some additional training to laggard teachers) will do nothing to help these kids onto the path to college and career success.

Districts rarely pick SIG’s strongest turnaround model, which calls for “shutting down dropout factories and failure mills, and then replacing them with traditional public and charter schools,” Biddle writes.

Unionizing charter schools

Teachers at two KIPP schools in New York City have voted to unionize, reports the New York Times. KIPP teachers earn more than district teachers but work longer hours. It’s common for teachers to burn out.

Several teachers at the two schools — KIPP Amp, a middle school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and KIPP Infinity, a middle school in Harlem — said the union organizing drive came about because they wanted a stronger voice on the job and because the demands on them were so rigorous. They also said that they wanted to insure a fair discipline and evaluation system.

A union contract will hurt the schools, said Jeanne Allen, executive director of the pro-charter Center for Education Reform.

“As long as you have nonessential rules that have more to do with job operations than with student achievement,” she said, “you are going to have a hard time with accomplishing your mission.”

Not necessarily a problem, writes Eduwonk. After all, Green Dot charters in Los Angeles are unionized (though not affiliated with the AFT or NEA).  KIPP Bronx, a district school conversion, is unionized.

What matters is what’s in the contract not unionization per se.

Allen responds:

What KIPP schools are experiencing is the equivalent of a takeover, even disguised as a restructuring, where management will no longer be able to set the tone or culture of their schools.

Flypaper’s Mike Petrilli also thinks this is a big deal.

Core Knowledge has lots o’ links.

Collective bargaining agreements are more flexible than reformers think, concludes the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which studied Washington, California, and Ohio.

Counting retirement and health benefits, teachers are well compensated, writes Rishawn Biddle in Golden Apples. But many teacher pension and health plans are abysmally managed and underfunded.