Are Bad Schools Immortal?

… is both a good question and the title of the Fordham Institute’s new report on “the scarcity of turnarounds and shutdowns in both the charter and district sectors.”  From the abstract:

“After identifying more than 2,000 low-performing charter and district schools across ten states, analyst David Stuit tracked them from 2003-04 through 2008-09 to determine how many were turned around, shut down, or remained low-performing … Seventy-two percent of the original low-performing charters remained in operation—and remained low-performing—five years later. So did 80 percent of district schools.”

It’s good to have this data, because it confirms the premise that was the catalyst for both The Turnaround Challenge report and my organization’s current work: the stuff we have done in the past to fix the problem of persistently low achieving schools has not worked.  Period.   In fact, we did a short piece on this called “School Turnaround Strategies That Have Failed.”  We’re not long on subtlety.

Here’s my concern, though.  Some folks will read this report and declare that turnaround strategies are “dead on arrival.”  That declaration presupposes that we have had a concerted policy response – and set of consistent interventions – in our failing schools.  That’s not the case.  States and districts have overwhelmingly responded to chronic school failure with underwhelming interventions (see above and the prevalence of the “other” option in NCLB-mandated restructuring).  With last week’s report that more districts are electing the more stringent options under the revamped SIG program, the tide may be turning a bit.

But there are still too many “paths of least resistance” that involve the failed light-touch interventions of the past.  Hopefully this report will help folks realize that more of the same is a recipe for … well, more of the same.


5 Responses to Are Bad Schools Immortal?

  1. Pingback: Remainders: School of One will partner with PBS, Gates | GothamSchools

  2. Pingback: Remainders: School of One will partner with PBS, Gates | GothamSchools « Parents 4 democratic Schools

  3. john thompson says:

    Light Touch, thy name is SIG. Now I know you can’t say it out loud, but the Administration couldn’t have designed a worst turnaround strategy. First, it started with politicized scapegoating, demonizing teachers instead of confronting reality. They mandated a bunch of expensive light touch interventions from merit pay to Smartboards, and whistled past the graveyard, hoping that a bunch of twenty somethings with “Expectations!” could ignore the wisdom of veteran teachers and an overwhelming body of social science. Then, they gratuitously insulted teachers and attacked the institutions we need and love. These SIG’s start with two strikes against them. I guess Duncan counted Central Falls and Blair as turnaround victories. Did you hear NPR last night? If there was any accountability for anyone but teachers, would you not fire – or at least reprimand and reassign – the Central Falls deputy suprintendent. He is now the poster child of clueless bureaucrats. Obviously his ability to help kids, as opposed to fight a war on teachers is gone. Perhaps I’m too harsh. Perhaps he just needs a Leave, because he sounded as burned out as the teachers who were destroyed by Gist’s mess. You should distance yourself from this doomed movement. Its original sin won’t be rectified. Next time, human nature must be respected. Next time, the turnaround process should include teachers who not only know the defintion of the word “assault,” have been assaulted,and have brought kids home on Thanksgiving, and have seen how these “reforms” sent a message that condemned these schools to anarchy. If they had listened to people who had listened to the students, they would have never started down that light touch path.

  4. john thompson says:

    I meant Dunbar, of course.

  5. Pingback: More on the Mortality of Inanimate Objects « Meeting the Turnaround Challenge

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