Friday, January 8, 2010

An Actual Turnaround

I've written before that I'm a pretty big believer in the Obama administration's focus on turning around the lowest performing schools in our country. As I've written, the whole point of the achievement gap is that a lot of schools serving more affluent areas are doing pretty well while a lot of schools serving the less affluent neighborhoods in our country are doing abysmally. That's why there's a gap. What I'm less a fan of is the administration's focus on turning schools around by simply closing them and opening a new school (or new charter school) in their place.

First, this strategy is premised on the idea that any new school will be better than the school it's replacing. Given the status of those schools, this isn't exactly a high bar to reach, but I'm not sure it's an entirely logical conclusion that absolutely anything would be better. I mean, don't districts ever open new underperforming schools?

That's why I like the idea of actually working to turn schools around rather than just close schools and opening a new one that we hope is moving in the opposite direction. You can imagine my happiness to see that a program in Chicago (which as a city has more than a few connections to the current powers-that-be in the White House) has been working with a group called Strategic Learning Initiatives and has been getting results.

SLI works within schools to turn them around rather than focusing on what the next school in that building will be doing. As their CEO says, "it’s less expensive, and often more effective, to invest in the people already working in the schools."

Ultimately, I don't think it's terribly realistic of us to think that we'll be able to abolish the entire system that we have and open something new and better in its place. I just don't think the manpower is there. So let's focus on improving the people we have and getting the best possible results out of them. Chicago is showing that it can be done. Is Arne Duncan listening?

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