Obama on Turnaround

BIG speech on school turnaround from President Obama today.  AP story here.

There’s a lot of good stuff to talk about, and some real meat and potatoes stuff about how high school completion is only MORE important in a knowledge economy.  A few comments:

1) Quote: “Because we know that about 12 percent of America’s schools produce 50 percent of America’s dropouts, we’re going to focus on helping states and school districts turn around their 5,000 lowest-performing schools in the next five years, and Arne will be amplifying and providing details on how we can do this.”

Exactly … I know Eduwonk reminded you this morning that dropouts happen everywhere, but the focus on the bottom 5% is a no brainer.  Best to concentrate resources on our most under-resourced communities, if folks are willing to take dramatic action, which brings me to …

2) Glad the Prez and EdSec are staying strong on the four options from SIG and RtTT.  There’s still a little too much wiggle room, but consistency is key.

3) This quote is huge: “So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution.  We’ve got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements.  But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.  And that’s what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th graders passed state math tests — 7 percent.  When a school board wasn’t able to deliver change by other means, they voted to lay off the faculty and the staff.  As my Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, says, our kids get only one chance at an education, and we need to get it right.”

The Central Falls story was all over the news last week.  Huge signal for Obama to address it directly in this big of a speech.

4) Talking about dropout recovery and alternative education is critical.  Most cities have high rates of formerly incarcerated youth, students with emotional disabilities, and students who for various reasons can’t be in a traditional high school environment; the demand for these environments usually outstrips the supply of quality seats.

One additional thing to mention, and this is a hobbyhorse of mine.  High schools don’t exist in a vacuum, and kids don’t just become a challenge in 9th grade.  If  a 9th grader reads at a 4th grade reading level – which isn’t uncommon in a failing school – that’s not the high school’s fault.  It IS up to the high school to move that child as far toward literacy as is humanly possible, but we can’t hold the pK-8 environment harmless for that failure.  More on that later.

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3 Responses to Obama on Turnaround

  1. Creech says:

    There was very little wobble in the President’s speech.

    But I’m afraid that Central Falls may become too Rohrsachy to grind anyone’s axe (possibly because so few people know — or refuse to acknowledge they know — some key facts, like the teachers were given a choice and they chose to refuse the school board’s offer.)

    For a prominent (and no doubt unisolated) example just see http://alturl.com/fqic.

  2. Creech, after following your link go to Class Struggle where a commenter named thetensionmakesit work went to the heart of the issue.

    “Its not really an evaluation system. Its a system designed to drive teaching practices. An evaluation system would evaluate what I bring to the table each day, which intersects with IMPACT at times, but is not driven by it. I, nor most of my colleagues, did not get into the field to be driven by external influences.”

    He or she later observed that teaching is about chess, while IMPACT is about checkers.

    And by the way, a tightened evaluation systems was a part of the take it or leave it offer. Management hardly presented itself as a paragon of the good judgement required for better evalauation systems.

    I’d apply those point to the greater efforts to make a “culture of accountability.” Too much of these “reform” effects are not about improved teaching but about control and political combat.

    The task of guiding a full teaching load of 9th graders who read at 4th grade requires the skills and the judgement of a specialist. Its silly to use evaluations and firings as a club to make all teachers work in lockstep following the theories of the “reformers” at the top.

    Also, Gallo had a choice, but she chose a path that has ended her effectiveness as a leader. Shouldn’t be held accountable?

  3. Tom Hoffman says:

    I’m not feeling like actually identifying the bottom 5% is a no-brainer for Rhode Island. We’ve got one school in that category (probably being closed) that exceeded the state average in reading and completely closed the achievement gap for poverty and black & hispanic v. white in writing on the 2009 NECAP. They have a 70% 5 year graduation rate (2nd highest among neighborhood high schools in the city) but a sub 60% 4 year grad rate so I guess that did them in.

    Central Falls is not a totally dysfunctional — they outscore lots of Providence High Schools, including ones that were restructured by the state a few years ago — and improving. I’d love to see an analysis of how much their graduation rate is affected by the fact that they’re a 1.3 square mile city with a highly transient population.

    I’m also somewhat disappointed that there’s no talk here about any sort of zone strategy for the five turnaround schools that are all within a mile of each other (and my house). RI’s entire effort seems so rushed and slapped together.

    Some exciting charts on the subject: http://www.tuttlesvc.org/2010/02/what-should-you-expect-from-turnaround.html

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