Federal Opinion

Schools Restructuring under NCLB: Blow ‘em up Good?

By skoolboy — September 12, 2008 2 min read
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This morning, the Center for Education Policy in Washington, DC is issuing the latest in a series of state-level reports on the fate of schools restructuring under NCLB policy. Today’s report, authored by Brenda Neuman-Sheldon (a one-time student of skoolboy’s, but I hear that she’s back on solid food), examines restructuring schools in Maryland. In 2007-08, Maryland had 38 schools in restructuring planning, a huge increase over the four schools the preceding year, and 64 schools in restructuring implementation, a 7% decline from the preceding school year. The restructuring schools are concentrated in a small number of Maryland’s 24 school districts, with 61% of the restructuring schools in Baltimore City, and an additional 30% in Prince George’s County, which adjoins Washington, DC. This concentration has stretched the capacity of the state and these districts to support restructuring planning and implementation. Prince George’s County, for example, soared from one school in restructuring planning in 2006-07 to 21 in 2007-08.

Neuman-Sheldon identifies a major shift in the form that restructuring schools in Maryland is taking. Whereas 58% of the schools in restructuring implementation in 2007-08 relied primarily on the appointment of a school “turnaround specialist” as the engine of restructuring (already a decline from the 73% using this option in 2005-06), all of the schools in restructuring planning that had submitted a plan at the time the report was written were proposing some form of “zero-based staffing”—i.e., replacing most or all of the staff in the school or asking all staff to reapply for their positions. It’s the neutron bomb theory of school reform!

But is it a good theory? That remains to be seen. What mechanism will bring highly-qualified teachers to these failing schools? Where will the tenured teachers who leave the schools go? In schools that replace only some of their staff, how will decisions about who stays and who leaves be made?

Beyond these logistical questions, though, lies another fundamental challenge: will changing the staffing—including the principals, who, Neuman-Sheldon reports, are often surprised to learn that when they select zero-based staffing as an option, they’re placing their own jobs on the line—fundamentally alter the context for teaching and learning in the school, when other powerful forces shaping teaching and learning aren’t changing at all?

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