School & District Management

Reading List: School Turnarounds Edition

By Dakarai I. Aarons — July 08, 2010 2 min read
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A slew of stories in print and radio are taking a look at the work going on in states and districts to turn around low-performing schools, showing a variety of strategies at work and highlighting something educators often say: the work of fixing failing schools—many of which have been broken for years—is anything but a simple task.

My colleague Lesli Maxwell wrote a story showing the U.S. Department of Education has moved at a snail’s pace in approving states’ applications for School Improvement Grants, which will be used to turn around low-performing schools. As Lesli discovered in a look at California’s experience, the Education Department is taking a real hard look at the state applications and making revisions.

NPR’s Claudio Sanchez profiled Alfred Eli Beach High School in Savannah, Georgia, which has been on that state’s failing list since 2003. While the school has posted gains in its test scores and graduation rates, its principal of the past three-and-a-half years, along with half the staff, will be out the door this fall.

The story is just one in a series of profiles NPR is doing on efforts to fix failing schools. Maryland’s Annapolis High School began its work before the Obama administration’s edict. Most of the $3 million the district earmarked for the effort went into paying bonuses to the teachers who were selected for the school, which moved to a 12-month schedule for three years. Some progress in hand, the school is moving off the year-round calendar, but whether it continues the upward trajectory remains to be seen.

In Los Angeles, Superintendent Ramon Cortines is personally overseeing the changes to Fremont High School. Fewer than 2 percent of students in that school tested as proficient in math classes last year, the Los Angeles Times reports. The 4,500-student year-round school, which began classes Tuesday, made all its staff reapply for their jobs and kept about half in the bid to improve the long-struggling school.

District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee put the hard-charging Dwan Jordon in charge of D.C.'s Sousa Middle School two years ago, a place with abysmal test scores that one teacher told The Washington Post had become a “dumping ground” for bad city teachers. As Sousa begins to show progress, Jordon said data has been key to boosting achievement, telling The Post his teachers have learned how to “speak the data” and choose strategies and interventions for individual kids.

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