School & District Management

Questionable Companies Pursue Turnaround Dollars

By Dakarai I. Aarons — August 10, 2010 1 min read
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Sam Dillion of The New York Times has an interesting piece out on some of the companies that are hoping states will pick them as “partners” in turning around low-performing schools.

With $3.5 billion of federal dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act flowing to states and districts to work on the schools, new companies are sprouting up all the time offering their services.

A husband-and-wife team that has specialized in teaching communication skills but never led a single school overhaul is seeking contracts in Ohio and Virginia. A corporation that has run into trouble with parents or authorities in several states in its charter school management business has now opened a school turnaround subsidiary. Other companies seeking federal money include offshoots of textbook conglomerates and classroom technology vendors," Dillon writes.

Rudy Crew, a former New York City schools chancellor who now leads a consulting group, Global Partnership Schools, with former Rochester, N.Y., Superintendent Manny Rivera, minced no words in Dillon’s article. ( I interviewed Rivera for this blog earlier this year on turning around schools.)

This is like the aftermath of the Civil War, with all the carpetbaggers and charlatans," Crew told The Times.

On the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog, Jamie Davies O’Leary raises a critical eyebrow at the fact one group mentioned in Dillon’s story was put on the approved turnaround-specialist list by Ohio education officials despite having no experience transforming underperforming schools.

I have the deepest and utmost respect for folks that offer (or wish to receive) resilience coaching, or who want to participate in "story listening" and "design thinking" or any other type of self-improvement services. But I also think it's delusional to assume that such services can be lifted from a therapist's office and applied systemically to abjectly performing schools in desperate need of transformation. This is the quickest way to undermine turnaround efforts. Ohio already has experience when it comes to an idea gone awry because of poor implementation and lack of quality control—charter schools. Without efforts to ensure quality control (sorry LifeTrek, you need to be yanked from the list), Ohio's experience with school turnarounds will head down the same path," O'Leary wrote.

I wrote a story this winter that examined a marketplace driven by the billions in competitive dollars available because of the economic-stimulus law.

Even then, observers were concerned that many people and organizations would promise to help school districts change their fortunes, even if they had no track record of doing so.

“What we see with Race to the Top is a real premium on people suddenly touting themselves as one-stop solutions,” edu-wonk extraordinaire Rick Hess told me then. “I’m not sure any of these ought to be touted in the way many states seem to be looking at them as solutions.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.