Chicago study debunks Chicago 'turnaround' hoax

On the eve of a potentially catastrophic Board of Education vote to turnaround ten more Chicago schools, the school reform research group Designs for Change has released a report showing that school turnarounds, pushed by President Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, are not worth the extra expense, and that the unheralded reforms brought about under the authority of parent-led, democratically-elected local school councils have been far more effective.

Cover of the Designs for Change study released February 21, 2012.There are nine key conclusions of the report, titled “Chicago’s Democratically-Led Elementary Schools Far Out-Perform Chicago’s ‘Turnaround Schools’ Yet Turnaround Schools Receive Lavish Extra Resources”:

The URL for the report for those who can't get a hotlink is:

The nine conclusions are:

Conclusion 1. The study’s evidence does not justify the continuation of the School Turnaround Strategy in Chicago schools with a concentration of high-poverty students, including the establishment of more Turnaround Schools through February 2012 Chicago School Board Action.

Conclusion 2. Each phase of the School Turnaround effort in Chicago has been generously supported with extra resources, including teacher pre - service preparation, school facilities improvement, staff selection, school leadership, and staff support.

Conclusion 3. School communities have repeatedly sought these same resources that have been given to the Turnaround Schools, but have been denied. Chicago must have an equitable transparent process for allocating desperately-needed resources.

Conclusion 4. Given the meager academic progress of Elementary Turnaround Schools and their high teacher turnover rate, which undermines the basic culture of the school, the researchers conclude that the resources devoted to Turnaround Schools can be better spent by supporting alternative research-

based strategies.

Conclusion 5. This study indicated that the high-poverty schools achieving the highest reading scores were governed by active Local School Councils who chose their principals, and had experienced unionized teachers. effective elementary schools have dedicated strong Local School Councils, strong but inclusive principal leadership, effective teachers who are engaged in school-wide improvement, active parents, active community members, and students deeply engaged in learning and school improvement.

Conclusion 6. Related research indicates that high-poverty schools with sustained test score improvements tend to carry out a specific set of practices and methods of organization. These effective elementary schools have dedicated strong Local School Councils, strong but inclusive principal leadership, effective teachers who are engaged in school-wide improvement, active

parents, active community members, and students deeply engaged in learning and school improvement.

Conclusion 7. A basic distinction between high-scoring and low-scoring schools is that high-scoring schools carry out engaging instructional activities that help students master demanding standards, while low-scoring schools focus on various form of test preparation.

Conclusion 8. In their practice of School-Based Democracy, the school community functions as a unified team and understands and acts on the close relationship between the issues facing the school and the community.

Conclusion 9. While even the highest-scoring schools, based on existing measures, need to improve, the practices and methods of collaboration that characterize the high-poverty schools that show sustained improvement are clear. The resources now used for Turnaround Schools need to be shifted to helping these effective schools become resources for other schools and

to support their own mutual continued improvement.

The most interesting fact is that this research is not new but backed now by years of data that refute the privatization of school management and firing of entire staffs — including the lunch ladies — to "fix" schools. In fact, what Chicago calls "turnaround" is actually the program called "reconstitution" — and every reputable study nationally since the mid-1990s has concluded that reconstitution does not work. Because Illininois state law does not recognize so-called "turnaround", the Board Reports that are scheduled to be voted upon on February 22, 2012 in Chicago are for the "Reconstitution" of the ten schools. Not only is "turnaround" a hoax, but it is a legal fiction as well.

Even the man who keeps Arne Duncan in power has proclaimed this approach dubious. President Obama took the podium alongside of U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan Tuesday, March 9, 2010 and said: "Strategies like transforming schools from top to bottom by bringing in a new principal, and training teachers to use more effective techniques in the classroom. Strategies like closing a school for a time and reopening it under new management, or even shutting it down entirely and sending its students to a better school…And strategies like replacing a school's principal and at least half of its staff. Now, replacing school staff should only be done as a last resort."

The “move the adults out” approach to turning around schools (also called reconstituting schools) is a tense issue within the education world. The recent situation in Rhode Island where the school board decided to fire all of its teachers is proof of the controversial nature of this turnaround method, especially when teacher unions contribute to the discourse. The successfulness of this approach is highly questionable and greatly debated. One report by the New York Times stated mixed opinions about the effectiveness this turnaround strategy.

New analysis blasts Obama’s school turnaround policy -- and tells how to fix it. A coalition of civil rights groups has released a "framework" for education reform which thrashed Obama’s education policies on a number of issues — including funding equity and charter schools — and said the government should stop using low-income neighborhoods as laboratories for education experiments.

The analysis of school turnaround strategies, released by a new national coalition of community-based groups called Communities for Excellent Public Schools, criticizes the administration for taking “top-down school improvement efforts” that are part of No Child Left Behind and thinking that they will somehow be successful by “adding teeth.” It says that they ignore a growing body of research about what does work.

Drastic School Turnaround Strategies Are Risky

October 2010 Walking through schools in which students wander the halls and teachers have given up teaching, it is not hard to understand the desire of policymakers to shut these schools down. Drastic actions are needed. Yet, the proposed turnaround strategies run counter to what research tells us about all the pieces needed to create and sustain improvement—particularly in the lowest-performing schools, where hope and trust are scarce.

A realistic approach would include key components identified by researchers: carefully determining the starting place with the most promise and building the skills and knowledge of those responsible for student learning. It would also, from the beginning, seriously engage teachers and the community in setting goals and putting them into practice. And it would acknowledge the importance of resources and patience. Replacing staff or redefining their roles may be necessary, but starting with a presumption that communicates contempt for the practitioners responsible for carrying out the work will undermine whatever follows.

School Privatization Conflicts, Apparent or Otherwise

Dec 01 2011 Emanuel's choice to spearhead his school-turnaround effort brought the word "cronyism" into coverage of his administration, always a quick way to convince Chicagoans the new boss is the same as the old boss. This week the Emanuel administration announced a turbocharged CompStat program for the public schools and the expansion of the privately run Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) program, handing them six more schools to turn around. AUSL has a mixed to poor record with school turnarounds, and is connected to the Mayor through a number of campaign and policy staffers and his choice to head the Board of Education, David Vitale, raising questions of the propriety of the choice. Interestingly given the mantra of privatization advocates that public school supporters use poverty as an excuse, AUSL head Martin Koldyke defended their record by blaming kids for being slow to catch on.

Emanuel was reportedly testy when asked if there was a conflict of interest in his choice of AUSL given his political connections to them. Asked directly if there was a conflict of interest, the Mayor answered a wholly different question:

It is not a conflict to give kids a good education. It's the responsibility I have as mayor.


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