Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Promising District Turnaround in Lawrence, Massachusetts

Michael Jonas with an article about a district turnaround effort that’s showing real promise in Lawrence, MA:



I may be one cycle late to the school turnaround dance, but I wanted to flag to your attention the story I wrote for the current issue of CommonWealth magazine on the district turnaround effort now underway in Lawrence, Massachusetts, one of the lowest-performing and highest-poverty districts in Massachusetts. (CommonWealth is published by MassINC. a Boston nonpartisan think tank focused on range of issues centered on how we support a growing and vibrant middle class in Massachusetts.)

Andy Smarick says he's waiting for the first example of a high-performing, high-poverty district, or the first example of the successful turnaround of an entire low-performing district. Lawrence, under state-appointed receiver Jeff Riley, aims to be just that proof point.  Riley has been given lots of leeway to chart an effective turnaround course for Lawrence. Among the strategies he's employing: bringing in outside education partners to run the worst of Lawrence's low-performing schools.  These include Unlocking Potential, the group that operates the UP Academy school in Boston that Chicago's Mark Bourdenko cites in his email to you in response to Smarick.  I spoke with and quote Andy Smarick -- as well as other important figures in this debate like Neerav Kingsland of New Schools for New Orleans.

The paragraph in my story summing up why Lawrence matters:

Improving schools is far too complicated an undertaking to say that Lawrence will either be the place urban district reform came to die—or to be reborn. But what happens there will surely matter, not only for Lawrence, but for education reform thinking more broadly. Failure would lend credence to the argument that chronically low-performing urban districts are not salvageable even when given unusual latitude and should be abandoned in favor of even more radical models like the one in New Orleans. Success, on the other hand, would represent a huge proof point showing that districts can be turned around if many of the prevailing rules and practices are set aside.


Michael Jonas

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