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NCLB's "School Restructuring" Won't Raise Achievement

Susan Notes:

Don't hold your breath waiting for this important research to be headlined in the Washington Post or the New York Times. Or for John Merrow to invite William Mathis on The News Hour. THey are still busy making Arne Duncan's airhead soundbites front page news.

Press Release

Research predicts failure for the law's most sweeping sanctions, concludes new brief

Contact: William J. Mathis - (802) 247-5757; (email) WMathis@sover.net
Kevin Welner - (303) 492-8370; (email) kevin.welner@gmail.com

TEMPE, Ariz. and BOULDER, Colo. (April 8, 2009)--A new policy brief finds little evidence that sweeping school restructuring--mandated by the federal government for so-called failing schools--will raise student achievement.

The report is titled NCLB's Ultimate Restructuring Alternatives: Do They Improve the Quality of Education? It was written by William J. Mathis and is published by the Education and the Public Interest Center, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and by the Education Policy Research Unit, at Arizona State University. Mathis is an adjunct associate professor of school finance at the University of Vermont and a superintendent of schools. He was a National Superintendent of the Year finalist and was also the Vermont Superintendent of the Year in 2002.

Mathis's brief examines the impact of the specific school restructuring approaches required under the federal law popularly known as No Child Left Behind. Under the law, enacted in 2001, schools that receive funding under Title I and that fail for six consecutive years to make "adequate yearly progress" toward proficiency are required to be restructured.

Such restructuring as set forth in NCLB can take one of the following forms: takeover of the school by the state; turning management of the school over to a private firm; shutting down and reopening as a charter school; or reconstitution of the school by replacing some or all administrators, staff, or faculty. A fifth option provided under the law endorses "any other major restructuring of a school's governance arrangement."

Mathis's brief comes as the re-authorization of NCLB remains mired in the halls of Congress, the subject of heated debate between the law's advocates and those who would see it scrapped or substantially revised.

The brief reviews the existing body of research on each of the five sanction options and finds that "there is little or no evidence to suggest that any of these options delivers the promised improvements in academic achievement."

In particular, Mathis finds:

* Both state takeovers and private management of schools by companies known as Education Management Organizations are rare, although both have been the subject of intense media publicity when they do occur. There exists no reliable evidence that either approach has improved achievement as measured by standardized test scores.

* Charter schools, while overall more numerous, are only rarely selected as a restructuring mechanism under NCLB. In any case, according to a growing body of research, "when controlling for demographic factors,

* charter schools show no advantage."

* The actual frequency of reconstituting schools by replacing administrators, faculty or staff also is relatively low, and no substantial evidence exists to indicate that such measures raise achievement.

As for the category of "any other" form of management restructuring, Mathis reports that it's very common but that the only study suggests no significant advantage. He also notes, however, that a potpourri of commonly accepted "best practices" fall within this category, which makes a general judgment of effectiveness very difficult.

Mathis concludes: "Given that these approaches are being proposed for the nation's most troubled schools, the solutions [currently set forth by NCLB] are likely to be woefully inadequate." Furthermore, states and districts alike simply lack the necessary capacity to comprehensively implement such sweeping remedies as contemplated by the NCLB sanction provisions.

In light of such findings, Mathis recommends against relying on restructuring sanctions to promote school improvement. He also recommends more rigorous and detailed research into certain reform measures assumed to be "best practices," but that have not been adequately studied; that policymakers provide states with adequate technical assistance to implement, support, and sustain school improvements; and that policymakers support a range of measures that have been demonstrated to lift achievement, including early education, longer school years and days, smaller school communities, and others.

Find William Mathis's report, NCLB's Ultimate Restructuring Alternatives: Do They Improve the Quality of Education? on the web.

— William Mathis
Education and the Public Interest Center, Arizona State Univ.


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