Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Turnaround Myth

This WSJ editorial correctly says that the best way to turn around a chronically failing school is to SHUT IT DOWN!

Like its predecessor, the Obama Administration is focusing its education policy on fixing failed schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls for a "dramatic overhaul" of "dropout factories, where 50, 60, 70 percent of students" don't graduate. The intentions are good, but a new study shows that school turnarounds have a dismal record that doesn't warrant more reform effort.

"Much of the rhetoric on turnarounds is pie in the sky—more wishful thinking than a realistic assessment of what school reform can actually accomplish," writes Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. "It can be done but the odds are daunting" and "examples of large-scale, system-wide turnarounds are nonexistent."

Mr. Loveless looked at 1,100 schools in California and compared test scores from 1989 and 2009. "Of schools in the bottom quartile in 1989—the state's lowest performers—nearly two-thirds (63.4 percent) scored in the bottom quartile again in 2009," he writes. "The odds of a bottom quartile school's rising to the top quartile were about one in seventy (1.4 percent)." Of schools in the bottom 10% in 1989, only 3.5% reached the state average after 20 years.

Conversely, the best schools tended to remain that way. Sixty-three percent of the top performers in 1989 were still at the top in 2009, while only 2.4% had fallen to the bottom. School achievement, or lack thereof, is remarkably persistent, and California's worst schools were all the subject of numerous reform attempts in "finance, governance, curriculum, instruction, and assessment," writes Mr. Loveless, a former California public school teacher.

Similar interventions in Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and elsewhere had similar poor results. Mr. Loveless says the reasons for this consistency need further study, though he suspects the answer may lie in a school's culture—its education DNA.

In any event, the reasonable conclusion is that children would be better served by closing these schools and starting new ones. In a recent article for Education Next magazine, Andy Smarick of the American Enterprise Institute notes that the most successful urban school models are run by charter organizations—KIPP, Achievement First, Aspire—that specialize in starting new schools.


The Turnaround Myth

Failing schools are best shut down.

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