Simple Request: Do More of What Works and Less of What Doesn’t

As Justin wrote last week, re: the leading indicators around the federal School Improvement Grant program, “we definitely shouldn’t be too surprised that there’s not more progress, given that so many districts are choosing the path of least resistance: a new principal and some light-touch consulting with no accountability for results.”

But there are some bright spots, and turnaround is the end point, not a federal program or a list of requirements. When districts and school use SIG funding to build strong relationships, provide principals with autonomy, and create clusters, we do see results.  For example, in August, Partnership Zone turnaround schools in Delaware outpaced the progress of the state as a whole, and even came close to rivaling the state’s average scores.  One school even outscored the district as a whole. And that was after fewer than two years of intervention.

Here’s a challenge to the field. States: stop letting districts and schools get away with light-touch interventions. They don’t work, period. Also, you shouldn’t expect the systems that were complicit in chronic under-performance to suddenly become the shepherds of greatness. We need new kinds of systems that get out of the traditional district structure.

And to advocacy organizations: publish reports that both laud success stories and air out dirty laundry. We need to cultivate and multiply the transformative examples of the work, while making it harder for states, schools, and districts to get away with the failed strategies of the past.