Proof Points for Turnaround

Want evidence that successful school turnaround is possible?

Last week, the Center for Education Organizing at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform released a series of profiles  that “summarize some of the key policy and implementation challenges that have been confronted and addressed by district superintendents, teachers, school leaders, and others working to transform struggling schools.”  Seven initiatives are profiled, including the well-known Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Strategic Staffing Initiative, as well as some lesser known projects such as Nashville’s “MNPS Achieves.”

Results are preliminary in some cases, but each organization provides a strong example of how they have moved the needle on student achievement.  Not surprisingly, the main ingredient in each initiative’s success came from changing conditions and building capacity within schools, leveraging additional autonomy and flexibility in one or more of the key levers for turnaround—People, Time, Money, and Program—to incite school improvement.  And, while each takes a different approach, all start with the premise that the current school systems and structures do not adequately meet the needs of students in high-poverty, chronically low-performing schools, and must be directly addressed in order to produce student achievement gains.

We have lots of evidence of what doesn’t work to improve chronically low-performing schools.  These seven initiatives demonstrate that meaningful transformation requires more comprehensive changes– creating the conditions for greater school autonomy, developing the capacity within the district or school to employ new strategies, and clustering low-performing schools intentionally to mutually benefit from focused attention and new resources.

There are no silver bullets.  These are just a few examples of turnaround strategies, and some are too new to have demonstrated results, but we are pleased to see that there is a growing body of evidence – or “proof points” – that successful turnaround can be done when leaders strategically approach the systemic and structural impediments to creating effective learning environments for children.

Danielle Smith is a Program Manager at Mass Insight.