Experts Debate Turnaround

The National Journal Online hosts one of their “Expert Blogs” on turnaround.  Everyone from Diane Ravitch to Rick Hess to Kevin Carey gets in on the debate action, as they comment on the same Andy Smarick piece I mentioned last week.  There’s a lot of the familiar, “Turnaround is hard!” and “We should just close bad schools!” chorus.  But Richard Rothstein gets at an idea that isn’t terribly popular:

“If we want to turn around low-performing schools, the first task should be to ensure we are identifying these schools accurately. Such identification requires much more than test scores. It requires expert human judgment, with qualified experts visiting schools to interpret test scores and evaluate the overall quality of instruction.”

So, first of all, I have more faith in test scores than Rothstein does.  He’s right that you need a qualitative analysis to figure out what the heck to do to fix a failing school, but schools that persistently demonstrate ridiculously low test scores are usually pretty bad, and I’m not uncomfortable with using those scores as a primary scrub of which schools are failing.

That said, what I WISH Rothstein had said was, “The first task should be to ensure that we have a shared understanding of when a school has – in fact – turned around.”  We have no agreed upon metric as a country that allows us to pat our colleagues on the back and say, “We did it!”  We need that.  Badly.

I have been in hours-long meetings debating “metrics,” and I have come to believe that the tendency to over-think and redefine success for each individual education initiative is a huge part of our paralysis around failing schools.  Yes, all work on “standards,” at any level – state or national – is part of solving this issue, but with billions of dollars flooding the turnaround zone, we need some answers fast.

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One Response to Experts Debate Turnaround

  1. Pingback: STSG Gets in On the Expert Debate « Meeting the Turnaround Challenge

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