Today’s Hot Topics

NCLB dispute moving to Congress?

 On June 7th, the U.S. Supreme Court refused a case filed by school districts and teacher unions, which characterized the No Child Left Behind Act as an unfunded mandate.  Now, the National Education Association vows to bring this issue before Congress.  The argument will likely become about state and federal relations and the potential renewal of the ESEA.  Changes to the ESEA stand to affect all of us in the education community, and this will be an important debate to watch unfold.  Read an EdWeek article on this topic here

Plan to increase principal training

 U.S. Senator Michael Bennet has introduced a bill that would replicate a successful principal-development program that he started during his tenure as superintendent of Denver Public Schools.  Through daily meetings, monthly principal institutes, and summertime sessions, Bennet explains that the program, which was a success in Colorado, should expand to other states.  The initiative aims to increase collaboration between school leaders.  Bennet’s proposed Lead Act would provide federal funding to train and develop principals, who would then lead turnaround efforts nationwide.  Read the full article from the Denver Post.

A community calls for school turnaround

 An unfortunate situation is playing out in a Philadelphia high school; parents and community members are frustrated because the school district is delaying school turnaround, which they believe is badly needed.  The West School Advisory Council, which was charged with deciding who should revamp West Philadelphia High School, is now firing back at the Philadelphia School District.  On Wednesday, the parent and community council released the following statement: “We feel offended and dragged through the mud.  The unnecessary delay of this process has harmed our school community.  Our turnaround cannot wait any longer.”  This statement is in response to the superintendent’s recent announcement that she plans to delay the transformation of the high school.  Read the full article from The Philadelphia Inquirer.


Today’s Education News

Supreme Court won’t hear No Child Left Behind case

 The Supreme Court has decided not to take up a case filed by school districts and teacher unions in opposition to NCLB.  The lawsuit questions whether or not schools should have to comply with the legislation’s requirements; the petitioners argue that districts should not have to spend their own money to fulfill the law’s requirements.  The justices made no comment regarding their dismissal of this case.  Read more at

Mayor Bing wants control of Detroit’s schools

 Following in the footsteps of Mayor Bloomberg in New York City, Mayor Daley in Chicago, and Mayor Menino in Boston, Mayor Dave Bing is pushing for mayoral control of Detroit’s schools.  This may be a challenging endeavor for the mayor because Detroit had a variation of mayoral control between 1999 and 2005; during this time, the district incurred $200 million of debt.  The district is currently facing decreasing enrollment and poor test scores.  Read more at Ed Week.

Dismissing poor-performing teachers: A complicated process

 A report by Saba Bireda of the Center for American Progress looks at state teacher dismissal laws.  In the wake of the “Rubber Room” exposé in New York City, the controversy surrounding teacher dismissal policies has reached a fever pitch.  Recent articles highlight the challenges to removing poorly-performing teachers, citing that each dismissal case costs districts a significant amount of administrator time and upwards of $100,000 in legal fees.  This report examines state laws that shape the dismissal process and give teachers protections.  Read the full report here

President Obama speaks to students at Kalamazoo

President Obama delivered a commencement speech at Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  In his speech, President Obama emphasized the importance of taking responsibility, both for one’s failures and successes.  Kalamazoo Central High School was the winner of a national competition, which aimed to promote the president’s Race to the Top initiative.  Read the full article from The New York Times.

…and just for fun: Why are colleges now admitting pets?

A New York Times article explains how colleges are relaxing their “no pet” policies in order to attract students and compete with other colleges.  Stephens College has gone so far as to offer a makeshift kennel in one of its dorms.  Read the full article here.

News Clips

In Turnaround News…

D.C. Teachers’ Contract addresses School Turnaround

An article in the Washington Post addresses the contents of the new D.C. teachers’ contract, which was ratified on Wednesday.  The contract indicates that there will be performance pay, new school turnaround models, greater collaboration, and improved teacher mentoring.  As they wait for Council approval, the union and D.C. Public Schools acknowledge that the challenge in moving forward will be to actually implement these changes.

In Other News…

Race to the Top – Part II

As states rushed to submit their applications for the second installment of Race to the Top funding, NY Times columnist David Brooks offers his commentary.  He begins by questioning the role and effectiveness of government intervention and points to several examples, some successful and others less so.  He draws from a speech President Obama gave, in which he stated, “Our government shouldn’t try to guarantee results, but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who’s willing to work hard.”  Brooks goes on to describe how the Obama administration “has used federal power to incite reform, without dictating it from the top.”  He describes the administration’s approach to education policy as “catalytic” and suggests that a similar process is needed for health, energy, and environmental policy.

Data as a Critical Ingredient to Ed Reform

It seems that every reform initiative has its advocates and detractors who point to “sound” data that “validates” their arguments.  Richard Hess offers an interesting piece about the importance of data.  He explains that data is essential to (1) tracking student progress, (2) identifying effective and ineffective strategies, and (3) empowering leaders to address poorly-performing schools.  He goes on to point out that, “Like a trip to the gym, these steps can feel like drudgery and they don’t deliver much immediate gratification—but they can make a big difference in the long term.”  These are practices we believe in at the School Turnaround Group, as we base all of our initiatives on research.  Please stay tuned for an upcoming publication on how to evaluate school turnaround.

Response to Representative Judy Chu’s SIG Framework

As you know, the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight has consistently stated that to be effective, school turnaround must be dramatic in nature.  History has shown that light-touch interventions only result in marginal impact.

The federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) requirements, while not perfect, are aligned with this notion of dramatic reform.  However, Congresswoman Judy Chu has recently proposed a new framework for the SIG program that would abandon the well-known school intervention models – turnaround, restart, closure, and transformation – in favor of light-touch school improvement strategies.  While we believe that the SIG requirements need improvement, we are concerned about the potential impact – or, rather, lack of impact – of Congresswoman Chu’s recommendations on chronically low-performing schools.

Please read our full statement below or on our website.

Be sure to also read Rick Hess’s related post on Ed Week, Assessing Rep. Chu’s Attach on School Improvement Grant Program.



Framework Attempts to Turn Back the Clock on School Reform

In December 2009, the U.S. Department of Education released a new set of priorities for the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program in response to years of unsuccessful, light-touch school intervention strategies promoted by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. The revised priorities give districts four intervention options for their chronically lowest-performing schools: turnaround, restart, closure, and transformation.

“The Department developed these intervention models to maximize the impact of an unprecedented $4 billion in SIG funds available to states and districts this year, instead of wasting these dollars on the failed school improvement strategies of the past,” stated William Guenther, President of Mass Insight Education.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA 32nd), member of the House Education and Labor Committee, takes a markedly different stance on the revised program. Chu recently proposed a new framework for SIG that attempts to remove any “stick” associated with the current intervention models – including removing school staff, introducing management organizations, or implementing teacher evaluation systems – in favor of handing schools a bigger “carrot” in the form of community engagement, professional development, and behavioral support services.

“It’s important to remember that the schools eligible for SIG are those schools where nothing we’ve done in the past has worked,” said Justin Cohen, President of The School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight. “None of the recommendations proposed in Chu’s report were prohibited under NCLB’s school improvement framework, and yet the number of underperforming schools has continued to grow.”

Dramatically changing academic performance in an underperforming school requires a shift in the school’s culture. This should include contracting with a Lead Partner to implement a turnaround plan and giving the Lead Partner greater autonomy over staffing; this flexibility is necessary to ensure that every teacher and administrator in a school is unequivocally committed to that school’s particular change process. Without giving principals or school operators more authority over who works in their buildings, outdated human resource policies, such as the notorious “last in, first out” rule, will ensure that our most vulnerable schools and children rarely have access to our most talented and experienced educators.

Said Cohen, “Flexibility for schools is critical to drive change, but flexibility without real accountability is a recipe for maintaining the status quo. Doing away with the turnaround, restart and closure models, instead of strengthening them by incorporating elements of Chu’s framework, will mean taking a giant step backwards in school reform.”

Mile High Turnaround

Yesterday’s Denver Post has a good piece on that city’s future plans to turnaround persistently low performing schools.  As is the case with any turnaround, community tension is beginning to mount.  Superintendent Tom Boasberg puts it well:

“Schools are like families,” Boasberg said. “I think any of these suggestions are difficult for those families to hear and to react to. But I think the key is to focus on what is the best for the students and what we’ll be able to better deliver for students.”

That last bit is the critical part; hard conversations about school change very quickly move away from what’s best for kids.  The interests of children should be the beginning, middle, and end of every one of these conversations.

(Bonus quote from yours truly about over-communicating change if you click through to the article!)

Turnaround in Delaware

Yesterday, Delaware’s News Journal published a piece that Bill and I wrote about turnaround in the First State.  Check it out here.

Turnaround in the News

Below are links to a few recent news articles and research reports on school turnaround:

Expected Turnaround Aid Has Districts Eager, Wary
Alyson Klein
Education Week, September 16, 2009

Turning Around Schools in Need
Victor Rivero
District Administration, September 2009 

Interpreting “Race to the Top”  TNTP Summary & Analysis of USDE Guidelines
The New Teacher Project
September 2009

Optimistic ‘Turnaround’ Signs, Despite a Lean Research Base
William Guenther (Opinion)
EdWeek, August 24, 2009