No turnarounds; close and start new

As I've alluded to a number of times, I'm convinced that turnarounds are not a scalable strategy for fixing America's struggling urban school systems. There is simply too much data from the world of education and other industries showing that the success rate of turnaround initiatives aimed at persistently failing entities is staggeringly low.

The answer is not trying endlessly to fix failing schools; it's closing them down and starting new schools. This is how other industries improve over time.

This is a big subject in the book I'm currently writing, hence my current fixation and????irascibility????on this issue. But the reason I'm belaboring this point on Flypaper is because I worry the new administration may be heading in the wrong direction.

They put $3 billion in the ARRA for the School Improvement Fund (under Title I) and they are proposing this program get another $1.5 billion in the 2010 budget. Moreover they are encouraging states to use dollars from the ARRA stabilization fund for school turnarounds.

Then today, ED released a statement that read in part:

Duncan said that if the nation's educators could turn around 1,000 schools per year - approximately 1 percent of the total -- for five years in a row, "We could really move the needle, lift the bottom and change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children."

If the ED team believes that we just need to build a better turnaround mousetrap, I'm concerned that we're about to waste several billion dollars. Keep in mind, if turnarounds were so easy, why do businesses go bankrupt all the time? Why do once powerful industry leaders eventually get surpassed?

But if Duncan intends to push school closures followed by new starts, then we're really on to something. I'm cautiously optimistic that he might be serious about this strategy. It was a key component of his Renaissance 2010 initiative in Chicago.

It would be great if the Department would clear this matter up. Do you plan to invest billions of dollars to try to invent a reliable, scalable strategy for fixing long-broken schools? Or are we going to humbly accept the clear lesson from 40 years of turnaround efforts in education (and even longer in the private sector), and recognize that closures and new starts are the way to go?????

* Update: On April 24, the Department released a document called "Using ARRA Funds to Drive School Reform and Improvement." ????Its purpose was to "spark ideas about how districts and schools might use ARRA funds, particularly those available under the SFSF, Title I, and IDEA Part B programs." ????Included among the ideas for "Turning around the lowest-performing schools" were a number of traditional turnaround activities but also a suggestion for closing and reopening. ????So maybe the Department will try both fix-it strategies and close/new starts?

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