In the States

Two articles for your consideration …

One is from Louisville, Kentucky, where a reporter went deep on the strategies that the Louisville school district is using for its lowest performing schools.  Rarely do school stories with this much technical meat get so much newspaper real-estate.  Worth a close read.

The other is from Ohio, where Richard Kahlenberg looks at the various elements that impact school change and suggests a “magnet school” approach to reform.  There’s a lot to like here, but I have a few concerns.  First, I would avoid the term magnet, because it implies selectivity, and we need programs that can reach all children.  Second, I think Kahlenberg understates the challenge of the socioeconomic integration inherent in this project.  It’s certainly admirable, but having managed schools like this, it’s not a matter of slapping a label on a school and expecting socioeconomic diversity to show up.  Third, re: this quote:

Fundamentally, it is time to rethink the basic theory of turning around failing schools. One unspoken assumption of many current approaches is that teachers in high-poverty schools (and their union protectors) are to blame; and that if we could fire those teachers, and bring in  union-free charter schools, we could fix the problem.

This is a bit of a straw man.  I’m an outspoken believer in more rational teacher placement policies that don’t put the least effective educators in front of our most vulnerable children; I also believe that decisive, immediate action is necessary to reverse the effects of policies that basically guaranteed the opposite result for decades.  But I don’t believe the “unspoken assumption” that Kahlenberg mentions here, and I don’t know a many people who do.

Those concerns aside, this is an approach I’d like to see utilized more frequently; but, it should happen in parallel with reform strategies that deal aggressively with the human capital challenges in the lowest performing schools.  I oversaw a set of schools like this when I worked in DC, and it was a fun, fascinating, and engaging project that promised to do great things for some children.  But it certainly wasn’t the answer to our chronically under-performing schools.

One Response to In the States

  1. john thompson says:

    I don’t know how I misposted the following. I could blame your new format but that wouldn’t be fair, so I’ll just blame my bifocals.

    Both were good articles full of shades of gray. One paragraph is pretty representative:

    “..a recent report that “most students in Chicago Public Schools continue to fail.”5 Nationally, turnaround schools have seen “lackluster” results.6 While there have been “scattered, individual successes,” according to a widely cited 2007 report by Mass Insight Education and Research Institute, research finds “very little enduring progress at scale.”7 Citing extensive research in California, Ohio, Maryland, and elsewhere, Andrew Smarick writes in Education Next, “overall, school turnaround efforts have consistently fallen short of hopes and expectations.”8 Likewise, while some charter schools such as Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) schools and the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) Promise Academies have been highly successful with low-income students, those models have limited applicability to the nation’s five thousand lowest-performing public schools.”

    But given the infamous Steve Brill article of this week, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    When can we expect responsible reformers to say “Have you no shame, sir?” When will turnaround specialists with a sense of reality repudiate the dishonesty and the scorched earth politics of Brill, Rhee, the TNTP, etc., and challenge Duncan, the Ed Trust et al. to get their evidence straight?

    You can’t continue to repudiate “straw men” in the abstract and remain silent about the mercenary misstatements of facts by fellow reformers- can you?

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