March 11, 2008For at least four decades, we have wrestled with the challenge of “turning around” the nation’s mosttroubled schools. From new curricula and school designs devised in the 1960s, to the “effective schools”efforts of the 1970s and 1980s, to the “best practices” mantra currently in fashion, we have sought theformula that might work. An array of turnaround specialists and programs, including University of Virginia’s Darden/Curry School Turnaround Specialist Program, Louisiana’s School TurnaroundSpecialist Program, Chicago International Charter School’s ChicagoRise, and the RensselaervilleInstitute’s School Turnaround Program, is today focused on this work. But the scale is small compared tothe scope of the challenge, pegged by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) through its “adequate yearlyprogress” measuring stick at nearly 10,000 schools
in need of improvement
and 2,000 schools in theultimate
category of under-performance. These numbers will continue to rise as the 2014deadline for 100 percent proficiency approaches.Early turnaround efforts have for the most part resulted in only marginal improvements, raising morequestions than answers. Promising practices have failed to work at scale when imported to troubledschools. Systemic solutions, from site-based management to high-stakes accountability, have thus far notled to the hoped-for transformation of the lowest-performing schools. The implementation of the NCLBremedies, especially the
provision, has also been less than transformative.Meanwhile, education is not the only sector in which we have had enormous difficulty turning aroundtroubled organizations. The private sector, too, struggles with turnaround efforts, with researchsuggesting that even the most intensive turnaround interventions are successful no more than thirty-five orforty percent of the time. In truth, the turnaround challenge facing educators, policymakers and reformerstoday is really a series of challenges that begins with the very definition of the word.
What does asuccessful turnaround look like? What will successful turnarounds, implemented at scale, require interms of funding, increased capacity throughout the system, and changes in the incentive structures that shape how people work and learn? What obstacles will turnaround initiatives encounter, and how canthose obstacles best be addressed? What roles should individual schools, school provider organizations,unions, districts, the state, and the federal government play? What changes should be made to NCLB tobetter serve these chronically under-performing schools?
To address these issues, we are pleased to share these thoughtful analyses, penned by thinkers who havewrestled deeply with these critical questions. For more information, readers are invited to visit the AEI(www.aei.org/event1646