Education Letter to the Editor

‘Turnaround’ Essay Shows Need for a Reform Focus

March 13, 2007 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Daniel L. Duke, in his recent Commentary on the research he and colleagues at the University of Virginia have been doing on “school turnaround specialists,” once again points out that the correct unit of analysis and focus of change, if we hope to improve education, is the school, not the school district (“Turning Schools Around,” Feb. 21, 2007). Mr. Duke highlights his program’s findings, and while this is very useful, the point not stressed is identification of the appropriate entity upon which to focus efforts.

A number of articles have been written lately arguing that districts should be the focus of turnaround efforts. Lost in this argument, however, is the commonly held understanding that principals, usually in a line relationship to superintendents and, therefore, CEOs of their respective organizations, can make or break any district change effort. This is seen over and over in initiatives of all sorts. Further, each individual school has its own unique history and culture that must be considered in any reform effort (Mr. Duke knows this well, as demonstrated in his book The School That Refused to Die).

While I don’t downplay the importance of districtwide change efforts, the proper role for superintendents and other central-office administrators is to select building-level leaders who are committed to the district’s initiatives and possess the ability to implement them in their respective schools. (A primary finding of Mr. Duke’s research is that there is no substitute for leadership at the building level.) Unfortunately, most superintendents “inherit” building-level administrators when they arrive.

School districts, moreover, are loosely coupled organizations. Despite recent efforts to tighten the accountability screws on principals and their schools (via use of school-level achievement scores, reconstitution of schools, or performance-based principal-evaluation systems), they remain essentially islands within the larger sea.

Mr. Duke’s research on the process of turning schools around and those that do this is very useful. Now we must take the key findings and ensure that school systems and superintendents apply them in the most productive way, and at the appropriate organizational level, to accomplish real reform.

William D. Silky

Professor of Educational Administration

State University of New York

College at Oswego

Oswego, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as ‘Turnaround’ Essay Shows Need for a Reform Focus

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP