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School Turnaround Group Aims to Help States, Districts

October 08, 2009 2 min read
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It was just two years ago that folks from the Mass Insight Education and Research Institute came to EdWeek to give us a preview of the school turnaround framework they were about to unveil. It called for a cooperative effort among state, district, and school-level officials to bring in turnaround specialists to work with partners who would provide services to chronically underperforming schools.

At the time, Bill Guenther, the president and founder of Mass Insight, and his team were talking with state school boards in Washington and Illinois about becoming pilot sites. They’d also just begun working to figure out how much talent was available in the market to do this sort of work in schools. In other words, there was not yet much cachet for doing the kind of dramatic overhauling of schools that Mass Insight was arguing would be necessary.

Now, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan making turning around the worst schools one of four non-negotiable priorities in the federal government’s unprecedented investment in public schools, Mass Insight finds itself with tons of cachet, and bucks too. Both the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have ponied up cash to support this work. (Disclosure: both foundations also support Education Week.)

Today, Mass Insight announced a new initiative called the School Turnaround Strategy Group. Actually, work has been under way for months on this initiative, which will have the group working directly with states and some of their school districts on turning around clusters of low-performing schools. This formal “launch” comes just two days after Duncan rolled out the proposed rules for awarding $650 million in innovation grants to school districts and the nonprofits that partner with them on reform initiatives.

Guenther told DD that Mass Insight is working out formal agreements with six states, and talking regularly with six others, but he wouldn’t yet disclose them. Funny aside: Guenther called DD this morning from outside the U.S. Dept. of Ed. headquarters, where he was watching Sec. Duncan shoot hoops. Guenther was in town to meet with Duncan, who called Mass Insight’s school turnaround framework the “Bible” on the topic.

Heading up the Mass Insight effort is Justin Cohen, who most recently worked for Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee in the District of Columbia public schools. In a letter introducing the new initiative, Cohen describes “partnership zones” that will set aside a group of schools to operate more flexibly and with “lead” partnership organizations that will be in charge of staffing schools and integrating their academic and student support services. Here’s the full list and biographies of folks working on this effort.

It certainly seems like Mass Insight will be well-positioned to get a piece of the innovation grants, with state and district partners already lined up and financial backing from private philanthropy.

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

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