To turnaround or not to turnaround?

That is the question. So far three tactics have dominated: closing failing schools completely and relocating their students; reconstituting schools with new faculties and staff; or handing the reins of schools over to independent charter operators. Denver tried the first two years ago. Now Denver Public Schools reports that students from the closed failing schools, who were typically making less progress per year than their peers (e.g., half a year of learning in a full year of school), are now making more (e.g., more than a year of learning in that same time frame). That’s not to say that that progress has brought these students to proficiency, or anywhere near it (DPS did not release proficiency data for these students; we can only guess why), but this could be good news for Arne Duncan, one of whose suggested turnaround strategies is this very tactic. But he might want to look to the Bayou for another turnaround strategy: chartering grade-by-grade. In New Orleans, a few schools have taken up this approach, in which a charter operator slowly takes over a traditional failing school, grade-by-grade. The two co-exist in the same building but employ completely separate administrations, teachers, and organizational structures. Some say this plan will ease the transition from district to charter; others worry that older students are unfairly overlooked, since the schools expand by adding students from the lowest grade. We can surely predict a number of potential logistical nightmares, but as the call to turnaround failing schools increases, we’re glad to see more strategies being employed. Now we can only hope they’re successful.

School within a school is new strategy to transform education,” by Sarah Carr, The Times-Picayune, September 27, 2009 

‘07 school closings boost student achievement, DPS analysis finds,” by Jeremy P. Meyer, The Denver Post, September 24, 2009

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