Look Ma, It’s Working!

Harry Jaffe has a great piece in the Washington Examiner about what turnaround looks like when it’s working.  Anacostia High School had proficiency rates in the high single digits when its turnaround plan was enacted:

“[Three Anacostia juniors] gave me a glimpse of what Anacostia was and what it could become. Under new management for less than a year, Anacostia High appears to be rising from the ashes of its past as D.C.’s worst and most violent high school … Last year Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee put an end to the lassitude. She put Friendship Public Charter Schools in control of Anacostia High. Its Collegiate Academy, not far from Anacostia High, was turning out young scholars. Why not give it a shot at turning around Anacostia? … Just over halfway through the school year, Anacostia is a hybrid. [Friendship] manage[s] the school. They hire and can fire the principals. Otherwise, the school is run under the D.C. Public Schools system, subject to its rules and union contract.”

A few points to make here.  One, in the last few weeks, between the Central Falls situation and a few other turnaround events, there is an emerging genre of “turnaround is scary” articles and columns.  SEA and LEA leaders would be wise to read Jaffe’s article, because if they can wait out the inevitable “sturm und drang” of the beginning, the end game is better results for children.

Two, turnaround must be swift, but it will never be immediate.  Even at Anacostia High, the student achievement outcomes will lag certain necessary changes at the school.  Having a culture of achievement, high attendance rates, more explicitly enforced discipline policies, and a higher quality of instruction will precede the measurable achievement gains.

And finally, on a personal note, this is a school I know and care deeply about.  I am completely overwhelmed by the fact that the students in this school are seeing the benefits of the change.

2 Responses to Look Ma, It’s Working!

  1. This couldn’t come at a worst time for me because I feel compelled to speak out, as well as research and think through my words. I’ve drawn heavily on Tom Hoffman and others, but I also checked enough of their data to feel confident. I haven’t looked into the letter of Rhode Island law, and I’d be leery of venturing a specific opinion anyway, but I’ve been reading up on the spirit of national labor law to make sure I’m not “loud wrong” on that issue.

    Sam Dillon approached the key political issue – are the mass firings at Central Falls an educational reform issue or a labor issue or both? If Mass Insight believes in balanced approach, you should be joining Randi Weingarten, repudiating Gist’s actions, and working with Duncan for written clarification of these processes. To be sustainable, we must see turnarounds as both an educationa and a labor-management issue.

    If Mass Insight’s or any other turnaround efforts is going to be successful, both the spirit and the letter of labor law must be respected. If a leader ignores, or seeks only lawyerly tactics around the National Labor Relations Act, failure is certain. So, after considering whether Gist, Gallo, or other reformers have respected the essential educational principles of collaboration, we need to see whether they also made decisions that would withstand legal scrutiny.

    Anyone seeking turnarounds at scale should also be helping spread the word regarding the whole economic and educational facts of the matter. Why not join in reminding Duncan et al that the starting teacher salary is only 43,486 in a community where a worker would need to earn $23.69 to afford an average two-bedroom apartment, so they should stop play the class conflict card.

    The President obviously was briefed about Central Falls’ 7% proficiency rate in Algebra II, but should he have also been told that the latest reading scores increased by 11 percent while writing scores jumped by 9 percent? The President might not have the time for the nuances of Algebra test scores and the difficulty of the Rhode Island test, as opposed to New York’s (for instance, the apparent lack of “giveaway questions” which allow marginal students to get proficient scores), but the one-sided spin hasn’t been helpful.

    In 2002-2010 Reading, the scores of students earning Proficient or above increased from 22% in 7th grade feeder students to 56% in 11th grade. That placed Central Falls in the middle of Rhode Island’s other urban high schools, “behind the lower-poverty ones (Tolman, 64%; Shea, 62%; Woonsocket, 60%), tied with The MET and Providence Academy for International Studies, and ahead of Central (51%), Hope Leadership (49%), Hope IT (47%), and Alvarez (44%) in Providence.
    Given Mass Insights’ knowledge about intense concentrations of poverty and the need for alternative placements, shouldn’t you remind your fellow reformers that Central Falls had 0 alternative placements in 2008? Since it serves a 1.3 square mile, population is transient (with the 2nd highest mobility rate in the state) thus decreasing the graduation rate. Even so, its five year graduation rate is 70% or 2nd highest in the city.

    In a culture of performance, it should be expected that a leader would study the law before acting. My understanding of labor law is that both sides must negotiate in good faith. This means the bargaining team and the employer must try to reach agreements through compromise and cooperation.

    The New York Times characterized the discussions at Central Falls as negotiations, and if that is true we should remember that the superintendent had recently praised Central Falls and it reforms that:“are the result of hundreds of hours of planning by teachers and administrators. … This came from the bottom up. It’s their work. It’s their dream.”

    And in 2009, Central Falls received a positive report on its progress which concluded:

    Thank you for the hospitality that was shown to the Commissioner’s Visit Team throughout the two days of our visit. The school was well prepared and students, staff and parents wereall very accommodating….. Take the time to celebrate your successes and accomplishments in building a school-wide culture of literacy. Be sure to take the time as well to have the conversations that need to take place and determine the best ways for your school to proceed. Recognize that your work is not finished as you continue to move forward in this charge. I wish you continued success in the future.”

    But Secretary Gist recently described the decision to fire all teachers saying,“What was happening before the selection was made was not a negotiation.” and “Whether they (the teachers) say they were supporting the transformation model or not, they say they are willing or not, that part does not factor in.”

    Focusing for awhile on only on the spirit of the law what are we to make of Gist’s comment that if “there is something that the superintendent feels is a message to her” that indicates that something is wrong with the union’s models, she (Gist) will back the superintendent.

    So three weeks before the deadline, management can just reject unions proposals and fire everyone, as if that does not send a chilling message to other workers, as well as teachers?

    You mention Anacostia as a success to celebrate, just I would mention a charter that used to feed my school as a success. Those successes are a reminder that the RttT, like NCLB, like other reforms do not require leaders to engage in destructive tactics. But if labor law is not considered, what protections exist to deter destructive practices? ( For instance, numerous RttT proposals require multiple measurements for teachers seeking to keep their jobs, but single measurements are enough to end those teachers careers. If you agree with Duncan’s position on multiple measures, why not urge him and others to put those positions in writing?)

    If political leaders, using flawed data, can select whatever school they want to target, they are not required to do so in a dishonest or destructive way. But when you look at Central Falls, it is clear that those leaders are being empowered to place whoever they want on a hit list for whatever reason they want, and then still be able to use that flawed data that to find “a rationale that makes sense” (to use Gist’s description of her decision-making process).

    And to get back to the reason why Mass Insight should join us, I suspect there are plenty of places that have followed the pattern I have seen. When I first read the news, I knew nothing of the ways that Central Falls could be an existential threat the turnaround processes, and the Duncan administration, as well as collective bargaining. Local leaders noted that we have closed plenty of schools, and we are working on two more. In the past, however, management did not have the federal government as backup even if it proceeded in a questionable manner. If the federal government does not protest the apparent abuses in this case, (as well as similar extremes in many RttT finalists’ proposals) the growing backlash will get completely out of control.

  2. Pingback: First Lady to Speak at Turnaround School Commencement « Meeting the Turnaround Challenge

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