As districts nationwide struggle to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, the U.S. Department of Education has shifted its focus to turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools.
In 2009, the federal government overhauled the Title I School Improvement Grant program, increased its value to $3.5 billion with money from the recovery act, and spelled out four turnaround options from which perennially failing schools would have to choose to get a share of the funding. (Roll over the chart at right for descriptions of each model and the breakdown of SIG money-receiving schools that chose to use it).
In the past, school improvement grant money had come with little to no strong direction from the federal government, and never with so much funding attached. Some education leaders have complained that the federal models are too inflexible and don't put enough emphasis on parent involvement, but a little more than a year later, some turnaround schools are starting to show gains.
In Philadelphia, for example, which has experimented with outside management of schools for over a decade, the new SIG funding is helping to fuel difficult changes through the Renaissance Schools Initiative, which identifies chronically low-performing schools for both internal turnaround and overhaul by external organizations. In Colorado, the state's 2008 Innovation Schools Act is giving approved schools greater flexibility by waiving certain state statutes, district policies, and union contract provisions to help boost student achievement—but it is also getting pushback.
This collection chronicles the changes in turnaround schools as teachers and administrators work through the challenges of overhauling their systems in a bid to improve student performance.