ERN Admin One of the more remarkable recent developments in middle school education is the back-to-the-future trend of developing K-8 schools to lift middle-school achievement in reading and math. But a new study by two Johns Hopkins University researchers says this popular middle school reform should be approached with far less enthusiasm and far more caution. The higher student achievement in math and reading associated with K-8 schools has more to do with student demographics, grade size and the school transition issue than with the K-8 grade structure, they say. Their conclusion is based on a five-year longitudinal study of 40, eighth-grade students in the Philadelphia City School District which is implementing a policy of converting its middle schools into K-8 schools to improve math and reading achievement.
The Obama administration hopes to extend this thread even further, making school turnarounds a top priority. But overall, school turnaround efforts have consistently fallen far short of hopes and expectations.
Fortunately, findings from two generations of school improvement efforts, lessons from similar work in other industries, and a budding practice among reform-minded superintendents are pointing to a promising alternative. Done right, not only will this strategy help the students assigned to these failing schools, it will also have a cascading effect on other policies and practices, ultimately helping to bring about healthy systems of urban public schools.
Just one-quarter of the schools were even able to accomplish a lesser goal: In52 Ohio schools were forced to restructure because of persistent failure. Even after several years of significant attention, fewer than one in three had been able to reach established academic goals, and less than half showed any student performance gains.
Of the schools required to restructure in —05, only 19 percent were able to exit improvement status two years later. And we must consider carefully whether merely making AYP should constitute success at all: Though the CEP study found that improvement rates in Michigan and Georgia were considerably higher, Michigan changed its accountability system during this period, and both states set their AYP bars especially low.
Though alarming, the poor record for school turnarounds in recent years should come as no surprise. Promising practices have failed to work at scale when imported to troubled schools.
A review published in January by the Thomas B. Some of them also adopted the same curriculum programs, had teachers with similar backgrounds, and had similar opportunities for professional development.
However, this case-study style of analysis is deeply flawed. The prevailing view is that we must keep looking for turnaround solutions. But, in fact, the number and scope of fix-it efforts have been extensive to say the least. Long before NCLB required interventions in the lowest-performing schools, states had undertaken significant activity.
Between and states required the reconstitution of failing schools in Denver, Chicago, New York City, and Houston. In Alabama took over a number of schools across the state, and Maryland seized control of three schools in Baltimore. Since NCLB, interventions in struggling schools have only grown in number and intensity.
Importantly, more than replaced staff members or the principal, among the toughest traditional interventions possible. Occasionally a program will report encouraging success rates. The University of Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program asserts that about half of its targeted schools have either made AYP or reduced math and reading failure rates by at least 5 percent.
Though this might be better than would otherwise be expected, the threshold for success is remarkably low. It is also unknown whether such progress can be sustained. Despite this evidence, some continue to advocate for improved turnaround efforts.
Nancy Grasmick supports recognizing turnarounds as a unique discipline. And the Obama administration too has bought into the notion that turnarounds are the key to improving urban districts.
This is all on top of the numerous streams of existing federal funds that can be—and have been—used to turn around failing schools. The dissonance is deafening.
The history of urban education tells us emphatically that turnarounds are not a reliable strategy for improving our very worst schools.
So why does there remain a stubborn insistence on preserving fix-it efforts? The most common, but also the most deeply flawed, justification is that there are high-performing schools in American cities. That is, some fix-it proponents point to unarguably successful urban schools and then infer that scalable turnaround strategies are within reach.
Being a high-performing school and becoming a high-performing school are very different challenges. Probably the most convincing argument for the fundamental difference between start-ups and turnarounds comes from those actually running high-performing high-poverty urban schools see sidebar.
If we fail, we have only ourselves to blame, and that motivates us to bring our A-game every single day. Only 4 of 36 organizations interviewed expressed interest in restructuring existing schools.
The findings above deserve repeating: Fix-it efforts at the worst schools have consistently failed to generate significant improvement.
Our knowledge base about improving failing schools is still staggeringly small. And exceptional urban schools are nearly always start-ups or consistently excellent schools, not drastically improved once-failing schools.This report was prepared at the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools, supported by the U.S.
Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (Grant No.
RQ) and by the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dear Twitpic Community - thank you for all the wonderful photos you have taken over the years. We have now placed Twitpic in an archived state.
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