Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Turnaround School

You may recall that during his State of the Union address, President Obama lauded the efforts of Bruce Randolph School in Denver, Colorado. He said, "Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado; located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97% of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their family to go to college.” He was holding this school up as an example of how "reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities."

Not part of the President's remarks was that Bruce Randolph dramatically improved by gaining "innovation" status under a Colorado law that allowed it autonomy from district and union rules. All forty teachers were asked to reapply. Only six made the cut and were re-hired. This approach is similar to one of four options--the Turnaround model--touted by the federal government for helping a failing school improve. You get money mandated from the top for choosing such an approach. Three years after making such a move, Bruce Randolph was prime time from the House chamber.

Why is this blog-worthy on Research Thursday? First, you didn't get all the facts if you left the SOTU simply being impressed by a school that somehow went from worst to first from the grass roots up. There is value in digging deeper. Second, many researchers are telling us that good teaching makes an enormous difference. Malcom Gladwell goes so far as to say that if you were forced to put your child in an excellent school with a bad teacher or a bad school with an excellent teacher, choose the latter. We call them Heroes. Lastly, the Department of Education will soon release an interim report on schools that selected the Turnaround option. Following that they will conduct case studies in 60 schools. Here's the interesting part, according the the article: "Researchers will not collect testing data, but will look at leading indicators such as changes in school climate and principal leadership strategies that could signal a successful turnaround." I find the idea that a school's success can be measured in ways other than achievement data a turnaround worth celebrating.

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