Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reactions to School Turnaround Report

Here’s a response from a friend familiar with the DOE’s recent SIG report:

When you get a chance, take a look at the School Improvement Grant report that the DOE released. It only covers the FIRST YEAR of implementation of the program. In what context can we call any effort to turn around schools where the majority make notable progress in the first year a failure? At minimum, it’s premature and in time it could be flat wrong.

Remember when people panned the small schools work in NYC, until MDRC showed the dramatic improvement of those redesigned high schools. BTW, that MDRC report dramatically understates the turnaround because it compares the treatment schools to control schools going through other reforms not the prior schools. When compared to the prior schools, the small schools effectively double the graduation rates across all subgroups.

Here is Terry Grier, Superintendent of Houston ISD:

You should come down to Houston ISD and see the turnaround work we've done with Roland Fryer. We respect, admire, and support good charter schools, but they are not the only answer!

In each turnaround school (4 high schools and 5 middle schools), we replaced ALL of the principals and assistant principals and between 40-80% of teachers, but kept ALL of the kids (unlike most charters) in year one. We replaced four of the of the original nine principals plus another 23% of teachers in year two. We are now in year three. We are implementing tenants of good charters -- working with Doug Lemov and Eva Moskowitz to train our teachers, etc.

We’re have promising results, but it’s still early. Attached you will find the 'first-year' study of our Apollo 20 turnaround program conducted by Harvard University's Roland Fryer. 

A response from Mark Bourdenko:

I want to point out that "turnaround" encompasses a broad and diverse range of efforts, some of which are quite successful. In Boston, UP Academy Charter School turned around a failing district school last year, and they have shown enormous growth in their MCAS scores. This video gives a brief intro to it. 

I work for the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago, an organization that manages multiple turnaround schools in the city. Several of those schools have shown dramatic gains in achievement; check out the differences in scores at the Morton School of Excellence (the school was turned around in 2008). Dodge Renaissance Academy is another success story; while it had 22% meets/exceeds back in 2002, look at its scores now.

AUSL's turnaround process, by the way, is deeply controversial: the entire staff of a school is fired, one or two people might be rehired, and everyone else is brought in by AUSL. Typically about half the teachers are graduates of AUSL's teacher residency program, considered to be one of the best in the country. Because the process sparks so much anger, it is important not to overlook the successes that it has brought forth. 

These turnaround efforts have to be distinguished from the typical, district or state managed turnaround. Entrepreneurial organizations such as UP and AUSL are making a huge difference, and they certainly cannot be called failures! I would deeply appreciate if you could make a note of that in one of your emails.

From another friend familiar with Newark:

I've had the turnaround debate hundreds of times in NJ.  In the corporate world you invest in turnarounds because you can buy them, theoretically, at a big discount to their proper value and be rewarded for it. Everything is on the table to restructure.

School turnarounds are nothing like that. I get no more reward for the money and hassle than giving a top charter network more money to start another school. The latter has certainty and low risk. It’s the opposite of investing (where the concept comes from): the upside is fixed or equal in both scenarios (great education), while the downside is limitless for the broken schools. Oddly, the school sector provides obvious disincentives for turnarounds...which practice has amply proved out.

I am neither Dem nor Rep...but part of the reason I am suspect of a blanket commitment to pay more taxes is a lack of resolve to stop pissing away money on efforts like this.

As for Newark, the new contract is precedent setting but that is hurdling a low bar.  I wonder now -- between educational and fiscal cliffs -- if we shouldn't just fight for a complete blow up of the current system? I hoped Rahm might do it in Chicago. There’s no guarantee that we have the people to make it better, but the status quo is just tragic. Personally, I've lost faith that the system can deliver any broad measure of quality, so maybe we need a New Orleans style restructuring.

Another friend wrote:

Here's a rare school turnaround that worked at New Dorp High School on Staten Island.

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