One of those brilliant PR spinmeisters invented the term “turnaround” to disguise the brutality and ugliness of firing the entire staff of a school with low scores and pretending that mass firing is a method of “reform.”


“Turnaround” sounds like a game or a dance, something delightful.


The reality is that everyone who works in the school is fired–or in lesser forms of the punishment, the principal and half the staff is fired–as though they caused the low scores of children who have difficult lives.


This reader describes the false “reforms” imposed on English High School in Boston, which has been turned around so often that whoever remains in the building must be spinning constantly.


Why don’t these false reformers recognize that turmoil is not reform? That “disruption” is unhealthy for children and learning? That children and schools need steadiness of purpose?


The reader writes:


Here in Boston, The English High School, the oldest high school in the United States, was taken over by the state as a turnaround school three years ago, on the cutting edge of NCLB. That the school was not “highly successful” is indisputable – but it should be noted that the school department had programmed English High with huge numbers of ELL students, including many who were refugees from Somalia and had never attended school. Nearly all students met the federal definition of poverty; many were parenting while attending school.


The school had been moved from a badly designed building (students were supposed to move from class to class on escalators!) to a “repurposed” building across the city which had once housed offices for a gas utility. The rotation of Headmasters was a rogues’ gallery of people who might be associated with disfunctional leaders of third world nations – idiosyncratic, capricious, dictatorial. Many staff who could escape to better teaching positions did so, but there remained a core of excellent teachers struggling against long odds. Meeting AYP under NCLB was impossible.


The Boston Globe, generally supportive of any Broadish reform, published the following story, in 2012, critiquing the school department’s “turn-around” – pretty much they took any and all trendy solutions and threw them at the staff and kids.


“At 33, Narcisse became headmaster of one of Boston’s 11 state-designated underperforming schools, giving him far broader authority than a typical principal. He was freed from strict union rules in hiring and firing and had the power to experiment boldly. Though he was supposed to consult with teachers and parents, both groups complained that, in practice, Narcisse launched major initiatives without involving them.”


After the disaster of the district “turnaround” the state took over English High. Under state receivership, not much has improved. So, the logical conclusion is that the state – which has not be able to “turnaround” English High – can remake New Bedford High school (see: as well as the Dever and the Holland into schools of excellence by doing what has already failed – turn them over to inexperienced “operators” instead of career teachers with proper supports.


Though Massachusetts may lead the nation in scores, schools in the cities suffer from the same deforms as other systems serving poor, non-English speaking kids and the “remedies” are just as deleterious.