Special Education Letter to the Editor

Optimistic ‘Turnaround’ Signs, Despite a Lean Research Base

August 24, 2009 1 min read
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To the Editor:

As the authors of the 2007 report “The Turnaround Challenge,” we were pleased to see it discussed in your recent article on the emerging field of school turnaround (“Research Doesn’t Offer Much Guidance on Turnarounds,” Aug. 12, 2009).

When the report was released, it was unclear how education practitioners and policymakers would respond. Two years later, more than 150,000 copies have been downloaded, and the ideas in the report have proved influential. Elements of the framework are being implemented by several states, urban districts, and turnaround partner organizations.

Your article correctly points out that because school turnaround is a new field, there are too few longitudinal, “research-tested” recommendations. But the headline suggests a more pessimistic outlook than our research supports. There is a wealth of evidence about what hasn’t worked, a small but growing base of research on individual high-performing high-poverty schools, and promising approaches from a group of entrepreneurial urban districts.

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, our organization has formulated a set of strategies to guide turnaround and a framework for delivering these strategies at scale, as well as integrated tools to help education leaders make this framework operational. Two recent reports, “Partnership Zones” and “A New Partnership Paradigm,” are available on our Web site (www.massinsight.org). The site also includes case studies on Philadelphia’s Delaplaine McDaniel Elementary School and Pickett Charter Middle School (both mentioned in the article), and on the Academy for Urban School Leadership and Green Dot Public Schools (two organizations influencing turnaround strategies being promoted by the U.S. Department of Education).

With the backing of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we will soon launch pilot “partnership zones” in a number of states and districts; the effort will include comprehensive evaluation to assess the efficacy of this approach. We see this as a particularly promising framework for turning around chronically low-performing schools, but we hope that other frameworks will emerge as well.

William H. Guenther

Founder and President
Mass Insight Education and Research Institute
Boston, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the August 26, 2009 edition of Education Week as Optimistic ‘Turnaround’ Signs, Despite a Lean Research Base


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