Caitlin Scott and Nancy Kober, School Districts' Perspectives on the Economic Stimulus Package: School Improvement Grants Present Uncertainty and Opportunity, (Washington, D.C.: Center on Education Policy, August 2010).

Way back in the spring, the federal government put its faith (and $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grants) behind four “turnaround models” for the worst-performing schools. The idea, of course, is that with the right interventions, even the most troubled schools can be reborn as good ones. But what if they don’t know how—or even what the models are? That’s the unsettling reality, according to this nationally representative survey of school districts. Over one-third of them were unfamiliar with at least one of the four “endorsed” turnaround models, while fewer than 12 percent had previously implemented even one of those intervention strategies. CEP also looked at the efficacy of past turnaround efforts and—unsurprisingly—found mixed results. But the most successful model is perhaps not what you’d expect: Of the four approaches, only the transformation model, which replaces the principal and provides teachers with increased support, elicited positive results. (Note, however, that this model was undertaken by a scant 6 percent of districts.) But, say the authors, we can’t write off these turnaround models just yet, since the survey was conducted before much of the SIG money reached districts, and before districts began concentrating their efforts on the four turnaround strategies. That a significant portion of districts are woefully undereducated on the SIG models is certainly not promising for their success (nevermind their historic lack of courage to make radical changes). But we’ll have to wait for CEP’s second survey, slated for winter 2010-2011, to find out. We wait, breath duly bated and suspense elevated.

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