Turnaround in Action

Dakarai Aarons turns in a good blog post over at EdWeek on the “art” and “science” of school turnaround:

The hallways were quiet except for when students were transferring between classes, students seemed mostly engaged in each classroom I walked in, and teachers were consistently overheard in deep discussions of practice and learning strategies … A school that looks so well-knit is in odds with the abysmal test scores the school posted last year and the year before, but represents the complexity of turning around a low-performing school.

This is a good opportunity to shamelessly link to our School Turnaround Group evaluation toolkit.  The things Dakarai observed are great leading indicators of change, and things like test scores are lagging indicators.  If the school truly is improving – from a teaching and learning perspective – we should expect to see subsequent increases in graduation rates, test scores, postsecondary matriculation, etc.

The other thing to look out for, though, is the “happy school.”  As Howard Fuller likes to say, in a happy school “everybody’s happy, but nobody’s learning a thing.”  In my unscientific taxonomy of chronically underperforming schools there are:

A) Schools which any observer will immediately recognize as failing; and

B) Happy schools, which have a veneer of happiness and complacency, but no student learning.

Happy schools are potentially more pernicious, as they’re harder to sniff out.  It sounds like the school Dakarai visited is on the right track, though.

Update: By the way, I’m not implying that “happiness” and “learning” are somehow mutually exclusive.  Ideally, you get both/and!

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