Monday, August 05, 2013

Neerav Kingsland on School Closures

Neerav Kingsland, head of New Schools for New Orleans and the most eloquent spokesperson for the “relinquisher” model, with an interesting column on school closures – and how New Orleans has pioneered a new model:

School closure disrupts communities, weakens neighborhood relations, and can lead to blight and wasted tax payer money. The massive wave of roughly 50 school closures that recently occurred in Chicago should be wished upon no city or community.

But, contrary to the opinions often voiced against school closures, school closures are not the result of despotic leaders who aim to destroy public education. Rather, school closures result from the brutal fiscal realities of under-enrollment, which is in turn, caused by both poor performance and demographic change.

It doesn’t have to be like this. School closures can be reduced if education leaders and communities embrace strategies that increase schools performance – strategies such as school transformation.

…Yes, sometimes unavoidable demographic changes drive enrollment patterns and educators have almost no influence over these large-scale dynamics. Other times, however, it is educational failure that causes shifts in enrollment patterns. In these cases, it works like this:
poor performance → families leave → facility not fully utilized → financial loss → school closure

The key takeaway is this: the root cause of avoidable school closure is that poor performing schools cause families to leave.

…Even in our best urban school systems, schools continue to underperform. Unfortunately, the typical improvement strategy – allowing the current governing entity to try and make the school better – rarely succeeds. In New Orleans, where I work, we have rightly abandoned this strategy. Instead of continually investing in failings schools, we transform them. While it would be great if failing schools could simply improve with increased time and investment, such wishful thinking inevitably harms children.

Our strategy is simple. A charter school operator gets three to four years to demonstrate an ability to serve children. If it fails, a new charter schools replaces the failing entity. Unlike most districts, we do not allow schools to continue serving children based on promises that “next year will be better.”

In New Orleans, we currently transform the bottom five to ten percent of schools each year. This will hopefully taper off as fewer schools fail and the system stabilizes, but we expect a long-term two to three percent transformation rate.

How is this strategy working in New Orleans? Well, seven years into our reform efforts, system scores continue to riseMost notably, that the performance of failing schools in New Orleans at the time of transformation has doubled over the past five years. School transformation is driving such improvements in the absolute quality of schools that the schools we transform now would have been in the middle of the pack just five years ago. The floor is rising.

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