What is The Turnaround Challenge about?

In the comments to a prior post, John Thompson questions whether or not the current thrust of this blog and our work at Mass Insight is true to the insights (no pun intended*) of the 2007 report The Turnaround Challenge (TTC). Here’s John:

“… so much of what you say now is the antithesis of the best wisdom in the Turnaround Challenge.”

Admittedly, I have tried to balance the content of this blog such that we:

1) Provide information that is useful to educators;

2) Engage constructively in some of the meatier topics in the various education reform debates; and

3) Challenge some of the existing fault lines in education policy.

Because of that variety, and the fact that the blog reflects my personal opinions, there certainly will be instances in which the messages here diverge from the precise messages of the report.  That said, to suggest that what I’m writing is the “antithesis” of TTC depends on a narrow reading of the report.  TTC made a number of contributions to the debate on how to turn around failing schools, and its authors – Andy Calkins, Bill Guenther, Grace Belfiore, and Dave Lash – deserve worlds of credit for distilling MANY important lessons out of decades worth of educational successes and failures.

Two concepts from the report have received considerable attention: the “partnership zone” and the “readiness triangle.”  I’ll talk in more depth about the “zone” in another post.”

The Readiness Triangle emphasizes that there are three critical elements of schools that “beat the odds,” or so-called “high poverty, high performing” (HPHP) schools.  Those elements are:

1) Readiness to Teach (sharing responsibility for achievement, creating a professional teaching culture, and the personalization of instruction);

2) Readiness to Learn (action against adversity, safety/discipline/engagement, and close student-adult relationships); and

3) Readiness to Act (resource authority, resource ingenuity, and agility in the face of turbulence).

The beauty – and the complexity – of that framework is that educators can project any number of beliefs onto the triangle.  When I talk to advocates of market-based reforms, they zoom-in on “resource authority,” and when I talk to folks who think we should focus on the externalities that affect schools, they tend to focus on “action against adversity.”

It’s a blessing, in that the Triangle is an incredible entry point into a discussion about substantial and unsettled issues.  But it’s also a curse, as it’s just as easy to find things to dislike about it as a result.  I don’t think I’ve said anything on this blog that is the “antithesis” of the wisdom of the report.  That said, I have been deliberately provocative about some of the more controversial parts of the proposed framework.  My hope is that we can use the areas in which folks agree to build enough trust to have frank discussions about the disagreements.

*I’m going to make that a universal “no pun intended” for whenever I use the word “insight”

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4 Responses to What is The Turnaround Challenge about?

  1. Justin,

    Thanks for the response. You hit the heart of the issue. In general, The Turnaround Challenge could be my educational bible, to borrow Duncan’s words, although I have other educational bibles that have contradictory approaches.

    Yes, I was making a narrow point. As an inner city teacher I’m thrilled that you’ve adopted clustering, and are setting up Partnership Zones. So much of our problems in neighborhood schools comes from the creaming that was made worse by individual school turnarounds. When a neighboring school turnaround makes progress, I celebrate their success but I also know that their success was made possible by dumping their most challenging students on us.

    So I’m making a narrow point regarding clustering. When individuals schools are turned around, by becoming charters for instance, that is not and existiential threat to unions. Were a cluster of schools to become charters in a short time, that could be. When individual schools are turned around, autonomy can be given to principals, and its not unusual to find principals of high moral character to lead them. When you get to tens of schools or more, you will have all types of human beings hired as school leaders. So, you can’t just give autonomy for that many principals. You need a system of checks and balances.

    Rereading my last paragraph, I wish I’d been less hurried. Perhaps I shouldn’t comment on a Friday after a hard week in the ‘hood. Based on e-mails with “reformers” as well as what I’ve read in the edusphere, I sense that many of the fault lines are rooted in the 90s politics. I’ve listened to complaints by reformers about unions not responding back then and I don’t doubt them. I also believe that many reformers use the tools to civil rights litigation (especially those rooted in the 70s). Justin, I thought I was saying that I didn’t assume that you agreed with the tactics. (and by the way, I don’t necessarily disagree with those tactics; I just don’t think they should be directed towards us teachers and our unions)

    Perhaps because I have been such an enthusiastic supporter of The Turnaround Challenge, I’ve become too narrow – not wanting my bible to be reinterpreted for today’s environment. So perhaps there was too much of a “say it ain’t so, Joe” tone to my comments.

    I sure apologize for anything that crossed a line.

  2. “I’m going to make that a universal “no pun intended” for whenever I use the word ‘insight’”

    In other words you admit it. You INTENDED the pun.

    (After all, you said you welcomed a frank exchange)

  3. Pingback: Teacher Accountability, Among Other Things « Meeting the Turnaround Challenge

  4. Pingback: All Kids Can Achieve, Part 573,746 « Meeting the Turnaround Challenge

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