Archives for category: Turnaround Schools

The Harvard Business School reports a study from Britain that claims to explain how to turnaround a failing school.

Americans, especially experienced educators, are likely to find their recommendations controversial.

The researchers say that reducing class size is not necessary. They say a class of 30 will do as well as a class of 15.

They say not to worry about teacher quality until you have the right leader and governance structure.

They say that the key to success is to exclude students with behavior problems. Pay another school to take them. Now there is a clever idea.

Their study was conducted using academies as their models. Academies are similar to our charter schools.

Imagine: as schools follow their advice, there will be a market for students who are behavior problems. Who will buy them?

Take it another step, and the school could sell students who don’t speak English and students with disabilities.

Now, that’s corporate reform using business thinking!

Tim Slekar, dean of Edgewood College in Wisconsin, is one of the bravest people in the resistance to corporate reform.

He was involved in the opt out movement long before others (like me) joined in.

He has used all kinds of media to refute the attacks on teachers and public schools.

Here he challenges the law that allowed the state of Wisconsin to take over some low-scoring public schools in Milwaukee.

Tim asks, now that the commissioner appointed to run the privatization district, Demond Means, has resigned, what will County Executive Chris Abele do?

Now what? What will County Executive Abele do now? Will he continue to “uphold the law?” Or will he muster the courage needed to express solidarity with the parents, teachers, and children and execute his duty as a citizen to peacefully disobey an unjust and unethical law? Will he denounce a law that is founded on discriminatory assumptions about communities of color and animated disdain for people in poverty?

Or will he simply reappoint a new commissioner and “uphold” a law born out of privileged and contempt for our brothers and sisters that remain strangled by systemic racism and crushing poverty?

Tim is there. He knows what is happening. I listen to him. So should you.

I am still waiting for someone to give me an example of a successful state takeover of a low-scoring school, one that did something other than change the students to high-scoring students.

Parents and educators in Milwaukee have fought against Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to take over Milwaukee Public Schools. Walker was relentless, and he persuaded the Republican-dominated legislature to create an “Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program” to begin the state takeover of low-performing schools. No money was appropriated for the program. A leader was hired, Desmond Means, to start the takeover district.

Desmond Means resigned.

Please bear in mind that no state takeover district has ever succeeded in improving schools. This game of changing the governance structure is a shell game. Tennessee did it. Michigan did it. Georgia and North Carolina are starting to do it.

It doesn’t work because it doesn’t improve schools or teaching. And it doesn’t help children.

Reformers try these stunts because they think that democracy is the problem.

When will they ever learn?

EduShyster provides insight and detail on the story of the Boston turnaround school that didn’t get turned around.

Take a low-performing school in an impoverished neighborhood.

Give it to a company that never ran a school before.

Run through five principals in two years.

What could possibly go wrong?

Will anyone be held accountable? Why not Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner who created this fiasco?

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.

Gary Rubinstein has been following the results of the Tennessee “Achievement School District” since its inception. At the time, its founder Chris Barbic pledged that–in five years time– he would lift up the schools in the bottom 5% of the state to the top 25% in the state. His strategy: turn them into charters and let the charter magic do its work.

Barbic recently resigned, although the experiment has not reached the five year mark.

Gary Rubinstein here reports on the ASD’s failure to get anywhere near the goal of “top 25%.”

Although there are regular claims of dramatic progress, Gary has the results of three years of the experiment for the original six schools in the cohort.

Of the six, four are still in the bottom 5%; the other two are in the bottom 6%. Some scores went up, some went down. The strategy of converting schools to charter with TFA teachers has not produced miracles or dramatic progress. And yet, many states are rushing to create their own “achievement school districts.” Gary’s warning: Tennessee has an “underachievement district.”

Gary Rubinstein writes:

Throughout the country, there are states that are considering creating their own ASD based on the supposed success of this one and the Recovery School District in Louisiana, on which this one is based. Senate Democrats actually tried, and failed, to get an amendment into the reauthorization of the ESEA that would mandate that the bottom 5% of schools in each state become an ASD, essentially. I hope that my very simple calculations are compelling evidence that the ASD does not live up to the hype. Getting 2 out of 6 schools from the bottom 5% to the bottom 6% has not earned them the right to replicate around the country.

Peter Goodman is a close observer of city and state education policy in Néw York. In this post, he describes how Governor Andrew Cuomo bypassed the state Constitution to impose his own ideas on nearly 200 struggling schools across the state.

Since the state Constitution gives the governor no role in education policy, Cuomo used the budget process for his coup.

“True to his word the Governor attached a number of proposals to the budget: extending tenure for new teachers from three to four years, another principal-teacher evaluation plan (the third in four years) and receivership, a system to deal with low performing schools.

“From April through June the Board of Regents grappled with the dense, new, teacher evaluation law: an Education Learning Summit, two lengthy and contentious public Regents meetings, thousands upon thousands of emails, faxes, letters and phone calls to the Governor and Regents members all protesting elements of the new law. Eventually the Regents approved a set of regulations that will require the 700 school districts in New York State to negotiate the implementation of the new law.

“What received virtually no discussion was receivership – a system by which “struggling” schools are given two years to improve before they are removed from their school district and placed under the supervision of a receiver, who has sweeping powers including the ability to change sections of collective bargaining agreements. The Lawrence Massachusetts receivership district is frequently referenced as a successful example of the receivership model (See discussion here and the Mt Holyoke School District is in the process of entering receivership, with strong opposition from the community and teachers (Read discussion here).

“The New York State model is directed at schools rather than school districts.

[The new law says:] “In a district with a “Persistently Struggling School,” the superintendent is given an initial one-year period to use the enhanced authority of a Receiver to make demonstrable improvement in student performance or the Commissioner will direct that the school board appoint an Independent Receiver and submit the appointment for approval by the Commissioner. Additionally, the school will be eligible for a portion of $75 million in state aid to support and implement its turnaround efforts over a two-year period.”

“In the first year the superintendent, with “enhanced authority” has to show that the school has made “demonstrable improvement in student performance” or the school board, with the approval of the Commissioner will appoint an Independent Receiver.”

New York City recently started a 3-year turnaround program, but most of them are now targeted for receivership.

What is receivership? It means the school is handed over to an outsider with sweeping powers, “including requiring that all teachers reapply for their positions.”

Cuomo has no experience or knowledge about schools, other than having gone to schools. But he is threatening scores of schools either to improve or get taken over. This is a continuation of his vendetta against public schools and their teachers. In his way of thinking, the best way to bring about change is by threatening to beat up the other. Improve or die.

TNTP, you may recall, was originally founded by Michelle Rhee .to recruit bright young staff for inner-city schools. In Tulsa, they took responsibility to turn around a troubled school. Their efforts failed.,

Teacher and historian John Thompson tells the sorry story. It begins with high hopes and boasts.

“At the beginning of the school year, after replacing 3/4th of the school’s faculty, McClure School Principal Katy Jimenez said, “I have never experienced a vibe and energy like we have right now.” Jimenez said, “The team has come together in an amazing way. My returning teachers gave up their summer to build a team they wanted to be a part of. Their investment is very deep. We are exhausted but so excited.”

“The principal borrowed a line from the corporate reform spin-meisters known as the TNTP and praised a second-grade teacher, Paige Schreckengast, as “an irreplaceable.” Ms. Schreckengast was featured the story’s photograph.”

Tulsa World reporter Andrea Eger “reports that even in this high-profile restart, “two vacancies went unfilled for much of the year because of a lack of applicants.” I’m not surprised by that, however, because many or most of the best teachers have heard the jargon before and many refuse to participate in such restarts because they know that the ideology-driven playbook is likely to fail. Neither am I surprised that “seven teachers bugged out mid-year; and then another seven left at the end of 2014-15.” [88% of the new teachers had less than three years’ experience.]

“The irreplaceable also left.

“Now, Tulsa says that the district officials learned from mistakes made in McClure’s faculty restart. The principal, Jimenez, says that she will no longer accept Teach for America candidates. According to Eger, Jimenez is balancing her remaining optimism with “a brutal, unrelenting reality.”

When will the so-called reformers understand that reviving troubled schools is hard work that requires experienced teachers with a long term commitment? When will they understand that disruption and chaos never saved a school or helped children?

New York state’s new Conmissioner of Education warned Buffalo to “fix” their schools or she would place the district in receivership.

It’s worth recalling the state’s previous attempt to “fix” a failing district. In 2002, the legislature passed a law permitting a state takeover of the segregated Roosevelt school district on Long Island.

John Hildebrand of Newsday summed up the gains and losses in 2013, when the state relinquished control.

“New York State’s historic takeover of Roosevelt schools has fallen short of its purpose in boosting student academic performance, raising questions over how Albany might better deal with struggling districts in the future, policymakers say. The state is highly unlikely ever to attempt another direct takeover of a local district, those officials add. Albany’s intervention ends Monday, after 11 years and more than $300 million in extra state spending.

The period — marked by limited scholastic progress and memorable mistakes by state officials and their appointees — was the first and only time the state ever managed a local school system. “I can tell you right off the bat that the state Education Department has no capabilities to run a school district,” said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who is Long Island’s representative to the state Board of Regents. “We need other alternatives, if we’re ever going to turn around other districts that are really not succeeding.” Regents set policy for the Education Department, which has run Roosevelt since state lawmakers approved the takeover in 2002. Tilles joined the board three years later.

By some measures, academic achievement has risen. In the 2011-12 school year, for example, 87 percent of Roosevelt High School’s graduates — 159 students in all — earned Regents diplomas. Only 12 percent, or 10 students, obtained such credentials in 2001-02. Regents diplomas signify completion of at least some college-prep coursework. The end of state control was hailed as “Roosevelt Independence Day” and “a historic moment” by school board leaders speaking Saturday before a high school graduation crowd of more than 1,000. Parents and other residents, both there and at Friday’s eighth-grade moving-up ceremony, voiced cautious optimism over the district’s prospects under local management. “This gives Roosevelt a chance to show its self-worth,” said the Rev. Al Henry, pastor of the local End Time Ministries church, whose daughter, Alyshia, 14, will enter ninth grade in September. “I think we have a 75 percent chance to overcome our past failures.”

How Roosevelt stacks up

In relative terms, Roosevelt remains far behind most other districts in student performance. Only 3.8 percent of 2011-12 graduates earned a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation, showing they were well-prepared for college. Nassau County’s average was 52.4 percent. The district’s high school has languished on Albany’s list of lowest-achieving schools throughout the takeover. The middle school and Centennial Avenue Elementary School also are listed as low performers. “I don’t think the state’s intervention was a plus,” said Dorothy Boxley, a 50-year Roosevelt resident and former education chairwoman for the local branch of the NAACP.

Roosevelt is a relatively small district, with about 2,800 students in a community of less than two square miles in the heart of Hempstead Town. The district’s enrollment is 53 percent black and 39 percent Hispanic, and 56 percent of all students received subsidized lunches in the 2011-12 school year.

The district is essentially tied with the Hempstead system as Nassau County’s poorest in terms of personal income, and historically has struggled to keep pace with wealthier systems nearby. The state’s deep involvement in Roosevelt dates to 1976, when it approved the first in a series of financial bailouts.

Some analysts say that comparing Roosevelt against wealthier districts overlooks the intertwined effects of poverty and housing discrimination on student performance. More than half of its students live below or near the poverty line; 21 percent speak limited English. “Nobody at the national, state or local levels wants to address the fact that there’s no magic bullet for improving the school performance of children who live in poverty,” said Alan Singer, a professor of secondary education at Hofstra University in Hempstead. “You cannot improve fundamentally their school performance without addressing the condition of their lives,” Singer said.

The 2002 takeover law gave state education commissioners unprecedented powers over Roosevelt and authorized state control for a minimum of nine years, with an optional two-year extension. Over time, commissioners ousted elected school board members, named replacements, exercised vetoes over local spending and appointed three separate superintendents. One provision of the law allowed for gradual resumption of local school board elections, which resulted in frequent clashes between the state’s appointees and elected trustees.

Albany pumped in extra money over the 11 years of intervention. Roosevelt received more than $210 million in state commitments for school reconstruction, and a total of $90 million in operating aid on top of what districts normally receive.

Any state takeover failure in Roosevelt has not been for lack of trying. In recent years, for instance, high school teachers such as Teri McGrath, Yolette Wright and Christina Squillante have taught a growing number of Advanced Placement courses set at a college level. Many enrolled teens are the sons and daughters of immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Haiti — in some cases, the first in their families to speak fluent English….

Albany’s intervention had two broad goals from the outset. One objective — the easier to accomplish, as it turned out — revolved around Roosevelt’s management and infrastructure. The idea was to curb local political infighting, erase budget deficits and rebuild aging schools — two of which were deemed safety hazards. Those efforts have been largely successful, though school construction projects have been marked by delays and cost overruns, and some residents worry about the cost of upkeep on newly expanded schools. Exhibit A is Roosevelt’s once-shabby high school. The sprawling, two-story structure is due to reopen in September following a $66.9-million renovation and expansion that includes newly air-conditioned classrooms, 16 science and computer labs, a dance studio and job-training centers for prospective chefs and nurses. Completion of the high school project caps a districtwide, $245.5-million reconstruction effort launched in 2004 — the most ambitious face-lift of its sort ever undertaken on the Island. Since May, student groups have toured the rebuilt high school, admiring its features. Brianna Doe, 16, a sophomore, said she was especially impressed by new fume-suppressant safety equipment in laboratories that will allow her and classmates to do science experiments they’ve never tried before. “I was wowed, the building was so beautiful,” said Doe, who served as a volunteer tour guide. The other objective was to boost students’ academic achievement to levels acceptable under state and federal standards….

Roosevelt High School remains on the state’s list of so-called Schools Under Registration Review, or SURR. The list includes schools in the state’s bottom 5 percent, academically speaking. Roosevelt High has been stuck there more than 20 years running — a state record. Technically, SURR schools failing to improve can be stripped of state registrations — shut down, in other words. The state, however, has never spelled out exactly how that might work in a district, such as Roosevelt, with only one high school…

Mismanagement by some state-appointed school administrators left a bad taste. In September 2006, the Education Department discovered that the superintendent at the time, Ronald O. Ross, had run up a budget deficit eventually pegged at $8 million. Ross insisted the extra spending was essential to expand student services, but expenses included $6,000 for his own planned educational travel to Argentina and Antarctica. After public outcry, the trip was canceled. State administrators encountered embarrassments of their own. In January 2007, Education Department officials revealed that construction of a new Roosevelt Middle School was costing significantly more than originally estimated. Overruns ultimately totaled $16 million; $5 million was reimbursed by insurance. The extra costs were for cleanup of higher-than-expected levels of DDT on the 11-acre school site. The land previously was occupied by a county mosquito-control unit, and excavated dirt was so polluted that it had to be hauled to a Canadian landfill. Roosevelt residents voiced outrage over ballooning costs. In April 2007, the state education commissioner at the time, Richard Mills, appeared at a public meeting in the district and admitted he had been too slow in stemming the flow of red ink. Ross stepped down two months later and Mills resigned the following year, both under fire. Disillusionment over Roosevelt’s experience has raised questions over how the state might better deal with other districts facing similar problems, such as Hempstead and Wyandanch. “In the bigger picture, there continue to be districts around the state that are struggling,” said Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), a longtime state legislator whose constituent area includes Wyandanch. “But I don’t think we’ll ever see the state Education Department proposing taking over a district like Roosevelt again, simply because it wasn’t a very good experience for them.”

States such as Ohio and Michigan are re-examining their takeover policies. One national education leader, Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said that takeovers generally have not made much academic headway. Domenech knows the issue from the inside. In 1995, as a regional BOCES superintendent on Long Island, he headed a state-appointed panel that monitored Roosevelt’s day-to-day operations — a preliminary step toward direct takeover. “Certainly, from my perspective, at the

Domenech knows the issue from the inside. In 1995, as a regional BOCES superintendent on Long Island, he headed a state-appointed panel that monitored Roosevelt’s day-to-day operations — a preliminary step toward direct takeover. “Certainly, from my perspective at the national level, state takeovers are hardly the model to follow,” said Domenech, whose association, based in a Washington, D.C., suburb, represents more than 13,000 educators in the United States.

Lindsay Wagner of NC Policy Watch asks whether North Carolina will be next to copy Tennessee’s floundering “Achievement School District.”


The idea is that the state will take over low-scoring schools, put them into a special district, and hand them over to private charter operators. All teachers will have to reapply for their jobs.


The ASD has encountered community opposition in Tennessee. Teachers leave, parents leave, enrollment declines, and there is no turnaround.


“Tennessee established an Achievement School District (ASD) five years ago in an effort to turn around failing schools, targeting schools primarily located in Memphis and Nashville.


How it works: the state identifies its bottom five percent of schools based on their students’ performance on standardized tests and marks them ‘priority schools,’ placing them within the state-controlled Achievement School District with the goal of lifting them up into the state’s top 25 percent within five years.


In most cases, however, the state doesn’t run the priority schools—instead, Tennessee contracts out their management to private charter school operators.


“It’s been so disruptive to the community,” parent advocate Lyn Hoyt, who is founder and president of TREE, Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, a group dedicated to fighting for strong and equitable public schools, told N.C. Policy Watch.


“Schools in the ASD have a very hard time getting community buy-in,” said Hoyt. “A charter management company comes in and takes over a school, forces the teachers and staff to reapply for their jobs, and there is just no choice in the matter. The school has to take on a whole new persona under new management.”


Hoyt says that because the charter takeovers tend to be very sudden, parents become angry that their beloved neighborhood schools, which often serve as cornerstones of Memphis communities, become quickly transformed into unknown entities. Teachers hoping to hold on to their tenure rights tend to leave for more stable work environments if they can find them, and parents who have the means tend to pull their kids from the ASD charter schools in search of alternative options, leaving even larger concentrations of low-income, at-risk youth in the ASD schools.


Since the creation of the achievement school district, four charter operators have pulled out of Memphis—at least two because they saw troubling enrollment decreases, said Hoyt.”


The ASD has achieved nothing of consequence. By any objective measure, it has been a failure. Why should North Carolina copy Tennessee’s failed ASD?


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