School & District Management

What, Exactly, Does School ‘Turnaround’ Mean?

May 27, 2010 2 min read

That, to me, was the key question raised, but not really answered, at an edu-salon convened yesterday by the Progressive Policy Institute.

And the question didn’t come from any skeptic on whether or not turning low-performing schools around is an achievable goal. It came from Justin Cohen, who as the president of the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight Education and Research Institute, is working closely with educators in a half-dozen states on this very difficult endeavor.

With $3.5 billion in stimulus-funded Title I School Improvement Grants flowing to the states and local districts to fix chronically low-performing schools, U.S.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his team at the Education Department have focused heavily on how you turn schools around, and are requiring one of four ways to do it. Their four endorsed school-improvement models are also part of the Obama administration’s blueprint for renewing ESEA. (Those models, of course, have been gaining more detractors lately, especially inside the halls of Congress.)

But, as Cohen rightly points out, there’s been little to no discussion or agreement about what a “turned around” school looks like. Cohen, who thinks the ESEA blueprint is an improvement over the current No Child Left Behind law, says to make it even better, there must be a definition of what constitutes success in this pursuit of turning around the nation’s worst schools.

“There’s nothing about when do we declare victory,” Cohen said. “What does it mean to say we’ve turned a school around? Let’s agree on what we’re measuring.”

Of course, “closing the achievement gap” is the answer everyone can agree on, and we’ve heard Secretary Duncan talk about “dramatic” and “breakthrough” change, but nothing that really defines, concretely, what “turn around” means. That high schools currently graduating fewer than 60 percent of their kids improve that rate to 90 percent? Or that middle schools where 10 percent of 8th graders are reading on grade level improve that proficiency rate to 60 percent?

Besides Cohen, the expert lineup on turnarounds at the panel included District of Columbia Chancellor Michelle Rhee; David Cicarella, the president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, the local AFT affiliate in New Haven, Conn., who was a stand-in for AFT president Randi Weingarten; Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.; and Jordan Meranus from the New Schools Venture Fund.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
Teaching Live Online Discussion How to Develop Powerful Project-Based Learning
How do you prepare students to be engaged, active, and empowered young adults? Creating a classroom atmosphere that encourages students to pursue critical inquiry and the many skills it requires demands artful planning on the
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD

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

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 Sponsor
Drive Improvement in Your School With Harvard’s Certificate in School Management and Leadership
Aubree Mills had two dilemmas she needed to address: One was recruiting and retaining good teachers at the Ira A. Murphy Elementary School
Content provided by Harvard Graduate School of Education
School & District Management Opinion Are Your Leadership Practices Good Enough for Racial Justice?
Scratch being a hero. Instead, build trust and reach beyond school walls, write Jennifer Cheatham and John B. Diamond.
Jennifer Cheatham & John B. Diamond
5 min read
Illustration of leadership.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: DigitalVision Vectors, iStock, Getty)
School & District Management We Pay Superintendents Big Bucks and Expect Them to Succeed. But We Hardly Know Them
National data is skimpy, making it hard to know what influences superintendents' decisions to move on, retire, or how long they stay. Why?
8 min read
Conceptual image of tracking with data.
marcoventuriniautieri/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Data For the First Time in the Pandemic, a Majority of 4th Graders Learn in Person Full Time
The latest monthly federal data still show big racial and socioeconomic differences in who has access to full-time in-person instruction.
3 min read
Student with backpack.
surasaki/iStock/Getty