Jun 03 2011

Turnaround every now and then I get …

I’ve recently written three posts about so-called ‘turnaround’ schools in Chicago, Memphis, and again in Chicago.

Since none of these schools have achieved the test scores that are so emphasized by the rheeformers, I’ve been thinking about how these examples could help us to redefine what’s meant by a turnaround school.  In doing so, we might learn that there are a lot more schools that deserve the title than the few that are praised in the media.

One thing that all the schools seem to have in common is that there has been an improvement in what I’d call ‘school culture.’  In other words, kids are getting excited about learning and about being in a place where that might be able to happen.  To me, this is an important first step in turning around a school, so I’m glad that they’ve seemed to do that.  Now, if a lot of that improvement in school culture was created by kicking out a third of their students, well, that doesn’t seem like a very American way of doing it.

If they want to call these schools turnarounds, which they may very well be, we have to redefine the term to not have anything about instantly escalating test scores and even inflated ‘graduation rates.’

Here are some things, off the top of my head, I’d look for:

Low teacher turnover.

Improvement in getting parents to ‘back to school’ night.

Kids participating in after school clubs.

Minimal focus on the drudgery of test prep, and more engaging curriculum.

Please comment on this post and add some more things that should be present in a school that is in process of being turned around …

Also, I’d be interested in what might be a reasonable time table for getting from ‘improved school culture’ to ‘higher test scores,’ or if something like that even needs to be part of the equation.

5 Responses

  1. I think in addition to getting kids excited to learn re: school culture, it should be safe. I can’t tell you how many public schools in Dallas, Texas are notoriously known through word-of-the-mouth that drive-by’s happen or that gang activity is at an all time high. And if it’s not gangs, it’s this idea that toughness over smartness is cool.

    I say this from the experience of someone who went to a DISD school, got bullied, and worse, had a sister who got bullied so much last year that she was in a fight. Even after she told the administration the girl was bullying her.

    I wrote about this in much longer length in a NYTimes comment. You can read it here: http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2010/06/28/style/28bully.html?sort=recommended&offset=14

    I don’t know if this directly answers your question but I definitely think it’s a part of the equation that we should consider. A lot of these “turnaround” schools are (perceived as) great precisely because schools in “troubled” areas are starting to do what well, schools are suppose to do: teach.

    Just my two cents. Thank you so much for the blog by the way. I love reading it.

  2. former teacher

    The 1980s flick starring Morgan Freeman, “Lean On Me” had the same premise and is based on Joe Clark and his turnaround of Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ. The turnaround takes place in just one school year in the movie, but they made it very clear that getting rid of the “troublemakers” or “bad” kids was the crux of reviving the school.

  3. debbie

    High attendance and low discipline issues would be useful data connected to student engagement and sense of safety

  4. H

    Having teachers get excited about and invested in school change. In other words, high staff morale due to genuine belief in the school’s mission and a desire to be a part of positive change.

    Totally agree about high attendance. Would also add an effective program to deal with truancy.

    Staff training in principals of behavior and behavior change interventions. Managing student behavior is something most teachers don’t know much about. The techniques they do have are often ineffective and not based on principals of behavior.

  5. FCC

    To answer the question regarding characteristics of a turnaround school, I believe that the school should have a clear direction, one that students, teachers, parents, and administrators are invested in. I think commenter H begins to hit on this when he mentions the school’s mission. The mission, however, needs to be one that is more focused than a general statement such as “to allow all students to achieve”. The mission needs more tangible and trackable objectives (test scores being only a part of this).

    I think that an improved school culture is a necessary step towards improved test scores if the scores are to mean anything. While a school might be able to achieve higher scores through intensive remediation focused solely on the test, I do not think the achieved scores in such a case truly reflect the end goal of education.

    In terms of a time table, I would take the number of grades present in a school and account for one year for each grade. In other words, I would expect a traditional four grade high school to require four years to move from an improved school culture to higher test scores. In order for the culture shift to fully take effect, it seems that the school would need to reach a stage where all of the students in the school had experienced that culture for their full tenure at the school. Think of it like a flushing out of the old.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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