Research bears out 'wishful thinking' on turnarounds
by Erika Owens on Aug 04 2009
Ed Week has a (free!) piece about the (lack of) research around turnaround programs for underperforming schools. Part of it echoes the editorial from our Spring edition:
"Turnaround is meant to quick-start a culture change, and there are those specially trained to do this. Using their expertise makes sense; but assuming that there are managers for hire who will resolve the deep-seated problems of struggling schools is wishful thinking."
That quick start is one thing "expert opinion is nearly unanimous" on, and "experts say, an early, quick win might be as simple as a fresh paint job on a tired building." That kind of jumpstart is definitely doable, but as was pointed out in the editorial, it does not address the deep-seated problems.
The crackdown on "squeegee pests" in NYC was used as an example of a quick start, which instilled confidence in the NYPD. But, skepticism isn't the problem with Philly schools. If anything, spending time on those sorts of "wins" can be a diversion when the only way to turnaround is to confront the systemic problems.
And how to do that remains unclear in the research because "'...turnaround specialists have to determine what conditions led to the decline in the first place,' said Daniel L. Duke, a professor of educational leadership with the University of Virginia program." Different conditions lead to different tactics and different research conclusions.
The article mentions turnaround examples in Philly at Delaplaine McDaniel Elementary School and at Pickett Middle School, which is managed by Mastery Charter. Notebook blogger, Eric Braxton, has been writing about how turnaround may work in Philadelphia, specifically with high schools.
Superintedent Ackerman is ready for "radical" change and has the support of Secretary Duncan who is also calling for dramatic change. This energy and emphasis on turnaround may end up helping create the research that is lacking now, it's "a huge learning opportunity," according to Bryan C. Hassel of Public Impact.