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.


Openings in the windy city!

The Office of School Turnaround at Chicago Public Schools is currently hiring a Director of Curriculum & Instruction and a school principal. See our website for the position descriptions and more information about how to apply.

Principals as CEOs

A new U.S. News podcast series, Leadership for the Next Decade, recently featured Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan as the special guest. Duncan discusses how troubled some of our schools are and that principals need the same skills as CEOs to turn those schools around and run them efficiently and effectively. Listen to the podcast here. Acknowledging that some principals require a different set of skills than is taught in most traditional leadership programs is the first step, actually training principals through alternative programs (see profiles of this type of program) and supporting them in the most challenging schools is where the real work must happen.

Leaders vs. Laggards

The Center for American Progress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Enterprise Institute recently joined forces and released Leaders and Laggards: A state-by-state report card on educational innovation. The report analyzes a variety of indicators from school management and finance systems, to HR practices (hiring, evaluation, performance pay, removal of ineffective teachers), the use of data, and the environment for state reform. The report doesn’t focus on under-performing schools, but our experience has shown that barriers, inefficiencies, or restrictions at the state and district levels are magnified in those persistently chronically under-performing schools.

Several places implementing a variety of reform efforts and piloting innovative programs are highlighted, but it’s clear that the majority of districts and states continue to work under restrictive policies and archaic practices. The report’s methodology, and the use of (and exclusion of other) indicators, has resulted in a bit of noise from various stakeholders. But, even with these cautions, the report forces us to ask the right questions.

We have the research and the data to show that many policies and practices aren’t showing results, and we have the Race to the Top and the Innovation Fund competitive grant programs to spur innovative growth — now the question is: will education leaders take the steps and gather the political courage to make the changes that are so urgently needed?

For more information, read EdWeek’s analysis of the report.

Missed Congeniality

Kevin Carey gets on the “niceness” meme bandwagon:

“Sometimes interests conflict, and that usually leads to, well, conflict. The case for [DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhees’s] interests is increasingly being made in terms of rising state and national test scores, improved special education, renewed facilities, and more. What, other than vague complaints about disrespect and the bizarre notion that it’s possible to fix the worst school district in America without making people angry, supports the interests of the other side?”

At the core of this argument is the notion that making schools better for children will inevitably conflict with some subset of adult interests.  That’s okay.  And by the way, as a thought experiment, where it is possible to affect change without disrupting existing adult power structures, we probably should.  That’s not the case anywhere I know of, though.

Experts Debate Turnaround

The National Journal Online hosts one of their “Expert Blogs” on turnaround.  Everyone from Diane Ravitch to Rick Hess to Kevin Carey gets in on the debate action, as they comment on the same Andy Smarick piece I mentioned last week.  There’s a lot of the familiar, “Turnaround is hard!” and “We should just close bad schools!” chorus.  But Richard Rothstein gets at an idea that isn’t terribly popular:

“If we want to turn around low-performing schools, the first task should be to ensure we are identifying these schools accurately. Such identification requires much more than test scores. It requires expert human judgment, with qualified experts visiting schools to interpret test scores and evaluate the overall quality of instruction.”

So, first of all, I have more faith in test scores than Rothstein does.  He’s right that you need a qualitative analysis to figure out what the heck to do to fix a failing school, but schools that persistently demonstrate ridiculously low test scores are usually pretty bad, and I’m not uncomfortable with using those scores as a primary scrub of which schools are failing.

That said, what I WISH Rothstein had said was, “The first task should be to ensure that we have a shared understanding of when a school has – in fact – turned around.”  We have no agreed upon metric as a country that allows us to pat our colleagues on the back and say, “We did it!”  We need that.  Badly.

I have been in hours-long meetings debating “metrics,” and I have come to believe that the tendency to over-think and redefine success for each individual education initiative is a huge part of our paralysis around failing schools.  Yes, all work on “standards,” at any level – state or national – is part of solving this issue, but with billions of dollars flooding the turnaround zone, we need some answers fast.

The Pain and the Fury

Linda Perlstein could not be more right about this:

People want to see test scores rise, fast. Well, guess what? The kind of change required for that to happen causes pain. Lots. ALWAYS.

I was having a wonderful conversation this morning with some funders, and someone made the point that leaders engaged in change management are made or broken then they decide whether to push past the hard stuff (made) or to abandon change at the pain points (broken).  It’s always hard, and you have to deal with it.