Turning Around Low-Performing Schools

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“We need everyone who cares about public education to take on the toughest assignment of all: turning around our lowest-performing schools.”

That’s what Secretary Duncan said at a national charter schools conference yesterday. There are about 5,000 low-performing schools—about 5% of all schools in the U.S.—that fail our kids year after year. We have a moral obligation to try to fix these schools. And now, for the first time, we have the money: $5 billion dollars for turnarounds over 2 years.

He described 4 approaches for turning around schools:

  1. Award planning grants in the fall so new principals and lead teachers can develop curricula to meet students’ needs. During the spring, they begin recruiting teachers and in June they take over the school. Current teachers can reapply. Some get rehired, but most go elsewhere.
  2. Turn the school over to a charter or for-profit management organization. This approach also replaces school staff and leadership.
  3. Keep most existing staff but change the culture through:
    • performance evaluation and support, training and mentoring.
    • stronger curriculum and instruction.
    • more learning time for kids (afternoons, weekends, summer) and more time for teachers to collaborate.
    • more flexibility for principals in budgeting, staffing and calendar.
  4. Simply close under-performing schools and reenroll the students in better schools. This, Duncan noted, is a state and local responsibility. “But,” he said, “the people who run our schools—and the parents who depend on them—must demand change if they want it to happen.”

See more complete descriptions of these 4 approaches in Secretary Duncan’s remarks.

What do you think is the best way to turn around a low-performing school?

ED Staff