Blueprint for success
Learned Comment: AGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
By Ray Simon
Turning around an underperforming school is like rebuilding a damaged home: Without a blueprint to guide us, all the new paint and plaster in the world will make little difference. (Related: Our view)
That blueprint is sound, scientific data. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) recognizes its importance. Parents are given annual information on schools' academic performances, so they can make the very best choices for their children.
States, too, need good data to make good policy. According to the Education Commission of the States, however, while states are on track to meeting most of the law's provisions, many are still building their systems for collecting and reporting data. There are nearly as many ways to calculate student dropout rates, for instance, as there are states.
This data infrastructure is key to improving instruction. That's why the U.S. Department of Education is providing funds to help states build it. And we have opened 21 new Comprehensive Centers across the country, offering analysis and advice on meeting NCLB's academic goals and closing the "achievement gap."
That's not all. Federal funding for Title I schools serving the neediest students has risen 45% in four years. And states have new flexibility to spend federal dollars on ailing schools.
Here's how it works. A school that chronically underperforms must develop an "improvement plan" and appoint turnaround specialists. If that doesn't work, the state may either reorganize the school under new management or reopen it as a charter school. Michigan, for example, trains and assigns educational "coaches" to its troubled schools.
Different states set different rules. But the bottom line remains the same: improved academic performance. We are monitoring the states' progress, eager to learn and share best practices. It's the only way for reform to take hold nationwide.
All underperforming schools share one thing in common: They did not become that way overnight. Turning them around will take time and commitment. But first things first. Piecemeal reforms must give way to a comprehensive blueprint for success. Children should not be trapped in troubled schools when we have the means to bring about change.
Ray Simon is deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
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