The District Role in School Turnaround

First, apologies to regular readers, particularly those who have chided me gently for my blogging irregularity. I promise to be more active in the coming days. I also will be blogging as a guest at a MUCH more popular/mainstream site next week, so stay tuned for more info on that later in the week …

Second, I wanted to say a little bit about the district role in school turnaround (and improvement more generally). For better or worse, NCLB/ESEA has focused almost exclusively on schools as the unit of education change, from the standpoint of federal intervention at least. Adequate Yearly Progress (somewhat of a misnomer), or AYP, measures the extent to which schools – and subgroups of students within schools – are achieving “measurable objectives” of student achievement. Certainly a worthy pursuit.

The challenge, though, is that the current framework does not compel districts to change their fundamental practice, beyond compliance. More sophisticated districts have changed. But the law is somewhat agnostic on this score, even though the vast majority of schools are inextricably nestled in these district infrastructures.

In any event, based on some recent conversations I’ve had, I think this issue is going to get some serious play if/when ESEA reauthorization heats up. There’s a general understanding that if districts continue to do the “same old, same old,” school turnaround will be capricious rather than strategic. Most of the stories I read about school turnaround focus on the “hero principal.” Those principals are important, but we need to create a model that isn’t predicated solely on heroes, which will require system/structural change.

More on this in the coming days … if you have any thoughts about how federal law should better reflect district capacity and practice, jump into the comments section!

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One Response to The District Role in School Turnaround

  1. Jeff Flynn says:

    As I’m sure anyone following education in America would agree, NCLB is by no means a perfect law. If it did one thing correctly, it was to identify significantly failing schools and brought a tremendous amount of attention to the challenges local school districts face. Undoubtedly, through RttT and School Improvement Grants, the federal government has stepped up its capacity to implement change at the state and local level, where ultimately the REAL change takes place. However, what I’ll refer to as “real change’ has a tremendous battle a’ la’ David vs Goliath–Real Change vs Status Quo.

    I will certainly agree that we need more than ‘hero principals’, and will go as far to say we need ‘hero school board members’ that are willing to make difficult decisions politically to have an impact on status quo. I think the federal government is doing a decent job at trying to nudge SEA’s and LEA’s towards doing things differently to implement school turnaround, but in my experience the pace is painstakingly slow.

    Therefore, my charge to ‘hero school board members,’ please, make the difficult decisions, the lives of countless young people are counting on you.

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