This is a stunning, and yet completely predictable, story: The state of Massachusetts took charge of four schools with very low test scores (so-called “failing schools”).
It handed them over to turn-around corporations. So far, turmoil, disruption, and failure. Will anyone be held accountable? Has any state ever taken over a low-scoring school and “turned it around” successfully?

Here is what happened, as reported in the Boston Globe:

The Dever Elementary School in Dorchester has cycled through five principals over the past two school years and is seeking another one. Discipline is a constant problem. Some teachers are fleeing, and many students don’t show up. Most who do perform poorly.

This is not what was supposed to unfold when the state stepped in and took over the school in 2014. Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester had spoken boldly about the need for aggressive change, calling the Dever’s low performance “an injustice” while adding, “I know we can do better.’’

The promised turnaround has not happened — at least not yet — and the troubling picture raises questions about whether state education agencies can do a better job than local districts in lifting up schools stubbornly stuck at the bottom. In the Dever’s case, the state recruited as a receiver a local nonprofit, the Blueprint Schools Network, that had never run a school….

Imagine that! Giving a struggling school to a company that had never run a school. That makes sense (not).

The state education department has paid $1.3 million so far to Blueprint in management fees. In addition, the Boston school system funds Dever’s operating budget, which was $4.6 million this year. The school also received $585,000 in state and federal grants this year.

Blueprint took on a big job two years ago when it stepped inside the Dever, tucked between the University of Massachusetts Boston and a mixed-income housing development. The school had been struggling for more than a decade with low MCAS scores. Nearly 70 percent of students live in homes receiving welfare benefits and almost half lack fluency in English.

Blueprint immediately made waves by asking teachers and staff to reapply for their jobs and dismantling a popular dual-language program, prompting many middle-class families to leave. Only two teachers out of 47 stuck around….

Blueprint’s philosophy is based on five principles that Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. identified in researching New York charter school success: excellence in leadership and instruction; daily tutoring; increased instructional time; setting high expectations; and using data to improve instruction.

Fryer served as Blueprint’s president for a short time when it was founded in 2010, and last year Governor Charlie Baker appointed him to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education….

The current principal–the fifth–lives in Florida. The company pays for her housing and for travel.

Connie Helton, who lives in Florida, is serving as interim principal. In an unusual move, Blueprint is paying her rent at a nearby apartment, totalling $10,000 so far, even though the principal’s job pays $140,000 annually. No other principal in the Boston Public Schools receives a housing allowance.

Blueprint also paid for two trips that Helton made to Florida to visit her family, costing less than $1,000.

Spengler said Helton was best suited to step in because she had been working with the Dever for Blueprint. He said a new leader should be selected soon.

“We know finding a leader is critical to long-term success,” said Spengler, adding, “I can’t say enough about the teachers who have taken this on every day. They are incredibly mission driven, and they are incredibly committed to those students.’’

But many of the teachers Blueprint brought in are leaving, too. Last year, 16 teachers departed, including four let go for performance issues and another four whose positions were cut. More plan to leave this year. Blueprint said it won’t have final numbers until this summer.

Several teachers, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak, described a school skidding off course. Although Blueprint has adopted an online platform to track student behavior, discipline continues to be a problem.