Friday, March 05, 2010

Blah Blah Turnaround


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan chose to fire teachers en masse when he headed Chicago's public school system.

He was confronted with lagging test scores at Sherman Elementary School in Chicago's South Side, where students are overwhelmingly poor and black. Before it was revamped, 29 percent of students were meeting academic expectations, according to statewide tests.

The city allowed the Academy for Urban School Leadership to take over the school in September 2006. It hired a new leadership team and installed a large number of AUSL teachers, mostly people who decided to become teachers after working in other fields. The school's original staff had to reapply for their jobs; many simply left.

Test scores have improved. During the last school year, 51 percent of Sherman students tested proficient on the same academic test, although they still lag students in the rest of the district. More recently, scores for students in some grades have slipped in reading and mathematics.

A spokeswoman for Duncan cites the school as an example of where replacing the staff — which he calls a turnaround — worked. It's one of four strategies that states can use to improve low-performing schools while competing for millions of dollars in stimulus funds.


  • Duncan-approved successful turnaround, Sherman 2007 - 2009: 29% > 51%
  • Duncan-rejected failing school, Central Falls 2007 - 2009 (reading, teaching year): 33% > 56%


Besides new staff and better leadership, (William Gunther, president of the Boston-based Mass Insight Education and Research Institute) said troubled schools generally need to partner with outside groups that can help them and create a cluster of elementary and middle schools that feed better-prepared students to high school.

In addition to all my other frustrations about this ongoing process, I'm disappointed about the lack of ambition and vision showed thus far concerning the five schools within a mile of my house subject to intervention. In her comments about Central Falls, Commissioner Gist has made it clear that the mode of turnaround is 100% the local superintendent's call, and while I can't comment on the quality of discussions going on around the individual schools (I simply don't know), I've heard not a peep about taking advantage of the opportunities for clustering or collaboration within this group of schools, which even includes an elementary, middle and high school within the same 1 block complex.

The Brady administration is probably completely incapable of doing anything interesting with these schools, since it has spent the last two years on a uniformity jihad and are still implementing their baseline reforms. They can't reform the reforms they've not even completely deployed yet. And they certainly aren't going to do anything that would create a stronger neighborhood power base in Elmwood. It is the one place they don't have to worry about organized opposition. They're not going to change that.

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