Restructuring Under NCLB: What We Know, What We Don’t

By Catherine Gewertz — December 08, 2009 2 min read
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In case you missed it, the federal government issued its final regulations last week for $3.5 billion worth of School Improvement Grants. (See our Politics K-12 blog item and our story for more.) They lay out what the feds really want to see from states vying for the money. And as we’ve seen before, one of those things is a priority on turning around the lowest-performing schools by using four turnaround models.

In a fortuitous bit of timing, just as those regulations dropped, the Center on Education Policy was finalizing a little document of its own. (See my blog post on the study over at Inside School Research.) And what its new report has to say creates an interesting dialog—and tad bit of tension with the feds—about what it takes to make real improvement in our worst-performing schools.

To get to the heart of it: the center argues that the states, districts, and schools it’s been studying for years have found that the federal strategies under No Child Left Behind have not helped them exit restructuring.

The center is questioning whether the federal government really has enough research on the effectiveness of its turnaround models to justify the pressure it’s putting on schools, districts, and states to use them. And CEP’s president, Jack Jennings, made no bones about his skepticism when he aimed a few comments at Judy Wurtzel, the Department of Education’s deputy assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development, during a forum here in Washington on the report yesterday. He said he wondered whether the department’s advocacy of the four turnaround models is based more on a “hunch” than on real evidence, and said he thinks the feds are being too prescriptive by insisting on these models in handing out school-improvement grants.

Ms. Wurtzel said the turnaround models the Ed Department advocates go “far beyond” those offered under NCLB. As for too-prescriptive? States have had a good deal of flexibility in turning around their worst schools, she said, and they haven’t delivered as much improvement as the feds would have liked. (Message: So it’s time do it our way.)

Stay tuned for my story on this. (UPDATE: Story is published.) But in the meantime, track how this dialogue unfolds as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization draws near, and note that there is an unusually intent focus on middle and high school improvement in doling out stimulus money as well as shaping a new ESEA.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.