Thursday, November 22, 2012

Andy Smarick on School Improvement

STOP THE PRESSES! The biggest debate within the ed reform community is a massively important one: namely, what is the best way to achieve our objective of providing a quality education to every child, especially those trapped in failing schools? Is the best solution to try to improve these schools, or to replace them? Here’s Andy Smarick with an article about powerful new evidence (on top of vast previous evidence) that the former is almost completely ineffective, no matter how much money is spent, so let’s focus on the latter:

When I get a call from a reporter on a Friday, it typically means that a government agency is trying to dump bad news.  When I get a call from a reporter on the Friday before Thanksgiving week, I know that a government agency is trying to dump really bad news.
And so it is with the U.S. Department of Education’s quiet release of results from the first year of the massive School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. (See Alyson Klein’s Ed Week coverage.)

The headline is simple: The feds spent several BILLION dollars and got terribly disappointing results—but, tragically, the results are predictable to anyone familiar with the history of “turnarounds.”

Almost three years ago, in an article for Education Next called “The Turnaround Fallacy”, I detailed how and why previous turnaround efforts failed so consistently and predicted that future efforts would amount to the same. Chapter 4 of my new book, The Urban School System of the Future, extends that argument with even more evidence.

It’s not just me. Tom Loveless’s 2009 Brown Center Report showed the dramatic failure of turnaround efforts over 20 years, and David Stuit’s remarkable and devastating 2010 study powerfully reinforced these findings.

Now the Department, doing its job, is trying to paint the new data as a good-news story. But that clearly belies the data. No amount of lipstick-gussying can change the facts.
…So we sent BILLIONS of dollars into deeply troubled districts, which then funneled the money into deeply troubled schools. And according to this eye-opening CRPE study, the interventions were often of suspect seriousness and vigor. No wonder the SIG results are even more disappointing than those generated by decades of previous turnaround attempts.
Now we face a fork in the road.

PS—Here’s a quote from Smarick’s new book, The Urban School System of the Future (

"Unfortunately, efforts to fix long-broken schools simply don’t work like we need them to. The evidence shows forcefully that turning around failing schools is not a scalable strategy for improving urban systems. Moreover, by putting so much of our energy into preserving failing schools, we have actually impeded the development of other activities central to the healthy management of our portfolio of schools."

 Subscribe in a reader