Education

The Turnaround Dilemma: Convert or Close Down?

By Debra Viadero — November 02, 2009 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The report out last week on the results of a study looking at Chicago’s efforts to close down failing schools got me thinking. In its study, the Consortium on Chicago School Research examined the impact on students of shutting down 18 chronically low-performing elementary schools in the Windy City. (Check out my colleague Dakarai Aarons’ article on the study, if you haven’t already.) The bottom line, according to this study, was that the students who were displaced by the closings just ended up at other low-performing schools in the district. Their achievement, as measured by test scores, did not improve all that much, compared to that of students who continued to attend similarly low-performing schools.

The findings are important because Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who presided over the turnaround efforts in Chicago, is pushing a similar effort at the national level. Districts won’t be required to close down schools to qualify for the new federal turnaround grants, but it’s clear from the draft guidelines issued so far that the federal government really likes that approach.

That means school superintendents faced with failing schools have a difficult choice to make: Transform the schools or shut them down and start from scratch? Over at the Institute for Research and Reform in Education, founder Jim Connell has developed a simulation tool to help school superintendents chip away at that question.

First off, you should know that the nonprofit institute has a little skin in this game. It developed the First Things First program for improving high schools—a strategy that has historically tended to focus on converting existing high schools.

For argument’s sake, though, let’s play along. Imagine that you’re a superintendent of a 14,300-student district and you want to boost the on-time graduation rates in your five lowest-performing high schools by 20 percent within five years. Would it be better to replace the schools or convert them? You could get some idea by plugging data about your schools into the spreadsheet that Connell developed based on his experience with First Things First schools. If the replacement schools enrolled 200 students a year, the calculator would tell you, it would take 11 new schools to match the success rate that you could get from transforming the existing schools instead.

That figure is based on lots of assumptions, of course, some of which may not apply in every district. Connell explains the thinking behind his analytic tool in a paper soon to be posted on the IRRE Web site. Contact him directly to try the calculator out for free.

UPDATE: I now have a link for Connell’s paper, if you’re looking for it. You can find it here. Also, just to clarify, the example above is hypothetical. It wasn’t actually computed with the calculator but it gives you some idea of the kind of information the new tool might yield.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.


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.


Events

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.
Sponsor
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.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

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