Friday, March 19, 2010

A Quick Fix for America's Worst Schools

A Time Magazine article about the Obama Administration's attempt to turn around failing schools:

The Obama Administration has a plan: take the 5,000 worst schools in the U.S. and give them more than $4 billion over three years to get a lot better — fast. It's the emphasis on speed that makes this endeavor something new. The government has thrown big money at education for decades, with very little to show for it. Even under NCLB, most of the failing schools that were forced to make changes did the bare minimum required by federal mandates.

The White House's new approach amounts to Extreme Makeover: School Edition. Fire the teachers and principals, turn schools into charters, lengthen the day and year, or shut the schools down completely and send the kids elsewhere. These so-called turnaround strategies — which aim to increase test scores, decrease dropout rates and improve classroom culture in short order — are perhaps the most ambitious part of President Obama's education-reform agenda. But it's a high-risk intervention. "This is like telling doctors to pick patients with the most advanced forms of cancer and make them better," says Jack Jennings, president of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.

So how often does rapid transformation work? In 2008, the Institute of Education Sciences, the Education Department's research arm, published a guide to turning around low-performing schools that noted that "the research base on effective strategies ... is sparse." In other words, taxpayers are betting billions of dollars on what essentially remains a crapshoot.

Keep the Kids; Bring In New Adults
All that said, few would argue with the proposition that radical steps are needed to fix the country's public schools. Champions of the turnaround approach say that where it has been applied properly, the early results are encouraging. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has cited Mastery Charter Schools as a shining example of how to right a capsized ship. So far, Mastery has used the same approach at each of the three schools it has taken over from the School District of Philadelphia since 2006: retain the students, spiff up the place, and bring in new teachers and administrators.


Monday, Feb. 22, 2010

A Quick Fix for America's Worst Schools

By Gilbert Cruz / Philadelphia, Time Magazine,9171,1963754-1,00.html

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