Monday, February 13, 2012

Will school turnarounds take?

The number of  "urban turnaround schools"  is on the rise,  the U.S. Department of Education announced late last week.

That would be truly exciting if that meant those schools had turned around failing performance.  In this case, though, it's much more preliminary.  A study by the Council of Great City Schools looked at the options being chosen by districts getting federal School Improvement Grants,  and found that 54 percent have chosen the "turnaround model,"  which requires replacing the principal and at least half the faculty.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg is getting almost $13 million in SIG money for three schools:  West Mecklenburg and West Charlotte high schools and Billingsville Elementary.  Those schools are using the "transformation model,"  which requires replacing the principal and changing instruction (in cases where a principal is relatively new, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be ousted). Nationwide 36 percent of schools are taking that approach.  CMS originally planned to use "transformation" with Waddell High,  but in the back-and-forth over school closings last year,  Waddell landed among the 5 percent taking the "closure model"  --  close the school and move students to a higher-performing one (in Waddell's case,  Harding High).

If you're doing the math, another 5 percent nationwide closed traditional public schools and reopened them as charters,  which hasn't been tried in Charlotte.

Turnarounds and transformations sound great.  But as anyone who has bought a weight-loss or hair-growth product knows,  the label doesn't guarantee results.  The Education Department's news release acknowledges it's too early to know what's working,  but notes that the study found school leaders expressing optimism that the options prescribed by the grants provide a “strong chance of significantly improving student achievement in these persistently low-achieving schools.”  

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