Friday, April 15, 2011

Change begins at ailing schools

It's good to see Massachusetts aggressively tackling its chronically failing schools:

Sweeping changes are underway at many of the state's 35 underperforming schools, a year after Massachusetts launched a multimillion-dollar overhaul.

Among the most aggressive efforts: More than half of the schools have extended their days by as much as 90 minutes, 20 schools have installed new principals, and about one third of the schools have replaced or are replacing at least half the teaching staffs.

On Friday, Lawrence informed 27 teachers at the city's two underperforming schools that they would not be returning next fall, according to the union.

Schools are also turning to innovative and more technologically savvy approaches to teaching. Fall River's Kuss Middle School has given every seventh-grader a laptop, Lynn's Harrington Elementary School is teaching parents to speak English so they can help their children with homework, and several Boston schools have enlisted City Year volunteers to tutor and mentor students.

So far, Massachusetts has approved overhaul plans for nearly all the underperforming schools, and 28 have qualified for more than $1 million in federal school improvement funds. About a dozen schools, mostly in Boston, were the first to get their plans in place by last fall, state officials said.

Local and state officials are eager to see whether the changes will boost scores on this spring's Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams. Schools must execute a dramatic turnaround in scores by the end of the 2012-13 school year or they could face a state takeover.

"I'm feeling a tremendous sense of momentum from these schools,'' said Paul Reville, the state's education secretary. "I'm encouraged. It's a lot of hard work ahead. There are no magical cures.''

In an attempt to close persistent achievement gaps among students of different backgrounds, the state declared 35 schools as underperforming in March 2010, just two months after a new state law gave superintendents and principals extraordinary powers to make staffing and other changes at such schools.

Twelve schools are in Boston, 10 are in Springfield, and the rest are in Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, and Worcester.

The effort is among the most ambitious ever undertaken by Massachusetts to turn around chronically failing schools, an area the state has had limited success in.


Change begins at ailing schools

New state law lets education officials take aggressive steps

April 04, 2011|By James Vaznis, Globe Staff

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