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Turning Around the Nation’s Lowest-Performing Schools

Ohanian Comment: I've been warning you about the pseudo-liberals at the Center For American Progress for years. It stands to reason they'd end up with financing from the Broad Foundation.

The author holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Princeton University.

Note that although the Broad Foundation financed this paper, the Center for American Progress insists that "the thoughts and opinions presented in this report are those of American Progress alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the foundation."

Introduction and summary

Across the country, states and school districts are focusing on turning around
the nation’s lowest-performing schools. Unprecedented federal Race to the Top
and School Improvement Grant funding accompanied by a more prescriptive
approach for using the funds has raised the profile of turnaround efforts. This
focus on school turnaround, while welcome, is not new. State, district, and school
leaders have been trying for years to turn around persistently low-performing
schools. But while some schools have made significant gains in student achievement,
results overall are decidedly mixed.1

Why is this the case?

One of the overarching reasons for the uneven results is that districts generally
have failed to recognize that persistently low-performing schools face unique challenges
that require aggressive, customized, and sustained interventions. Instead,
districts create one-size-fits-all intervention programs providing each target school
with the same dollars, instructional coaches, or other support, regardless of differences
in individual school needs. These resources are often layered on top of
existing policies, programs, staffing, and schedules, without addressing underlying
flaws in those structures. The result is often a standalone, add-on approach that
neither addresses the needs of each individual school nor fixes the district-level
conditions that allowed the school to fail in the first place.

For more than a decade, Education Resource Strategies, Inc., or ERS, has worked
with urban districts to transform the use of people, time, money, and technology
so that all students receive the support they need to succeed. Based on this
work ERS believes that successful school turnaround also requires district turnaround—
fundamental changes in the way that districts think about and provide
support for schools. ERS has identified five steps that districts can take in designing
and implementing their school improvement programs that will increase the
probability that their efforts will achieve lasting improvement:

1. Understand what each school needs. Districts must develop a comprehensive,
systematic, and ongoing approach to identify the needs of schools, students,
and teachers. Districts must evaluate the needs of current and incoming students,
examine whether the principal and the teachers in the school have the
skills required to address student needs, and assess school practices.

2. Quantify what each school gets and how it is used. Districts must identify all
resources currently available to each school and understand how effectively
schools are using those resources to improve instructional quality and meet
individual student needs, through such strategies as teacher assignment and
support, student grouping, and daily scheduling.

3. Invest in the most important changes first. Districts must aggressively target
those challenges that make persistently low-performing schools different from
other schools and provide the additional resources and support that each
school needs to overcome the challenges. Key priorities, in order of importance,
are to ensure each school has a strong school leader and teachers who
collectively have the skills to meet student needs; to make sure that at-risk students
receive basic health, social, and emotional support; to implement school
designs that organize teaching expertise, time, and attention to match student
needs; and to provide each school with the necessary central office support.

4. Customize the strategy to the school. Each school faces its own unique challenges--
the needs of its particular students, the quality and skills of its leader and
teachers, and the resources it currently receives. Districts must be thoughtful in
tailoring the intervention strategy to each school’s most pressing and critical needs.

5. Change the district, not just the schools. Strategies that focus only on changes at
individual schools, without addressing the underlying systemwide structures that
allowed these schools to fail in the first place, will not achieve lasting improvement.
Districts must ensure these schools have the resources and support they
need to succeed even after intervention efforts are over, and leverage the lessons
learned from turnaround schools to implement broader reforms that support the
ongoing improvement of other low-performing schools in the district.

There is no silver bullet—no single solution for how to turn a failing school
around. But by taking these five steps district leaders can improve their probability
for sustainable and scalable success.
Let's examine those steps in more detail. . . .

The author speaks of being targeted as a "turnaround" school by the federal government as something positive. Indeed. For the rest of this article, go to the url below.

— Karen Baroody





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