Locke High in the NYTimes

Hey folks, sorry for the long blog vacation.  I hope you’ve been finding your fix of education commentary elsewhere!

Sam Dillon just turned in a strong piece on the turnaround effort at Locke High in Los Angeles.  As followers of both turnaround and this blog should know, Locke High came under the oversight of charter management organization Green Dot after a teacher vote in 2008.  Dillon’s piece covers some of the challenges that face the school, in particular the high price tag of change in this context.

Read, the whole thing, but I wanted to add a little more background and substance to my quote, particularly as it relates to something that AUSL’s Tim Cawley says immediately after:

Justin Cohen, a turnaround expert at MassInsight, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization, said most districts could expect to spend $2 million to $3 million over three years to overhaul a failing school. Costs often include teacher training and extending the school day, he said.

“I don’t doubt they’re putting all those resources to good use,” Mr. Cohen said of Locke’s $15 million costs. “But that’s high.”

Tim Cawley, a managing director at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit group leading several turnaround efforts in Chicago, disagreed, arguing that even expenditures surpassing $15 million on a big school could be a smart national investment.

“We’re wasting billions every year by not fixing these schools,” Mr. Cawley said, “because the students they’re not educating end up filling our prisons.”

Whereas the context here implies that I’m disagreeing with the overall investment strategy, that’s not the case.  It’s important to think about this investment in relation to the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, which inevitably will be the source of funds for turnaround in most other jurisdictions.  If I were overlord of federal spending, I would make sure that we targeted multi-year, multi-million dollar investments to the country’s lowest performing, schools, in exchange for real change.  But I’m not, and I’m afraid that the $15MM price tag is going to give sticker shock to critical lawmakers who have to make smart decisions about the future of SIG in the not too distant future.  You even have one of those lawmakers (Al Franken), questioning the sustainability of the investment earlier in the piece.

Long story short … I’m a huge fan of the work at Locke High, and Green Dot (particularly CEO Marco Petruzzi and founder Steve Barr) deserve boatloads of credit for the tireless work they’ve done in one of America’s truly challenged high schools.  We have to ensure, though, that their success is both translatable and scalable.

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4 Responses to Locke High in the NYTimes

  1. alexander says:

    thanks for the additional info, justin —
    here’s my take on the times article and it’s subtly changed headline, if you or your readers want a little more:

    http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2010/06/media-times-article-exaggerates-turnaround-costs.html

    / alexander

  2. john thompson says:

    You were quoted as saying “Costs often include teacher training and extending the school day.” I’d hope a lot more would be included than that, for instance the costs of “readiness.”

    As I read the Turnaround Challenge the two factors that you mentioned would be inherently incapable of turning around schools.

    How many turnarounds are able to pay the political and economic costs of rooting out gangbangers? And who pays the costs for their education? Or do most turnarounds just dump them on the street or on other troubled schools? I’m asking for your experience with is greater than mine. In my experience, 100% of the time the turnaround school dumps them on their neighboring school. And frankly, I can’t conceive of a nation-wide scenario where the dumping model isn’t the dominant one.

    Gangbangers are people too, and we’d be better off paying for alternative services before we pay the costs through the prison and social service sectors. Also, how will turnarounds ever be sustainable politically if they just dump or warehouse the most challenged kids?

  3. john thompson says:

    I forgot to ask about your $2 to 3 million figure. That seems awfully low. Are you mostly talking about elementary schools that are smaller? Are you assuming that money that is wasted in scattershot remediations will be organized and thus used effectively? Even if that were true, I can’t imagine a three year turnaround for a high school or a middle school for that price tag.

    In our district’s high school turnaround, where the grant for a year that starts in three weeks has not even been funded, they long ago used up all the money they dared asked for. They’ve got money for reforms that I’d characterize as the usual suspects, and reforms that my reading of the research says are inherently incapable for making a turnaround. But they don’t have a penny left for readiness, or any of the investments that most veteran teachers would say are absolutely esssential for creating a better learning culture. Maybe that’s why they can’t find teachers willing to take a gamble and jump into the fishbowl in return for performance pay.

    Similarly, the district has scraped together the money for adults for the longer school day, but there isn’t a penny for investing in the students or creating possibilities that the extra hours will be used in an engaging way, as opposed to more worksheets to keep a lid on things for the extra hours.

    I’m assuming my 90% poor district isn’t too atypical. At a time of layoffs, transformative change has been mandated for 40% of the secondary schools, and other than the failed old professional development route, we have no money to invest in kids. We don’t even have the money for the failed old testing and remediation approach.

    It seems to me, you wouldn’t want districts to attempt turnarounds until they had the money to do it right, plus money for redundancy.

  4. Pingback: More on the Cost of Turnaround at Locke « Meeting the Turnaround Challenge

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