Tuesday, June 16, 2009

School intervention, Duncan-style

In a new commentary for Ed Week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan puts the spotlight on effective work to change the nation's lowest-performing schools. He summarizes the Chicago efforts this way:
In Chicago, the most successful interventions we implemented when I led that city’s school system were complete turnarounds. ...
The change was never easy. We created an arduous process for the selection and development of new school leaders to open a new school. We recruited existing administrators from within the Chicago public schools, and we worked in partnership with nonprofit entrepreneurs, such as the Academy for Urban School Leadership and New Leaders for New Schools, to identify potential leaders from outside the system. We needed the best people with the capacity to take on the challenges of fixing schools that had been failing for decades. Once selected, they worked for six months, deciding which of the teachers from the building to rehire and recruiting new ones.
The new school leaders ran intensive efforts to prepare their new teams, sometimes spending more than five weeks in the summer in workshops and planning sessions to get ready for the school year. They extended learning time for students while also creating extra planning time for principals and teachers. The hard work paid off: We saw immediate and sustained results. In every elementary and middle school we turned around, attendance rates improved and the percentage of students scoring above proficient on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT, increased in the first year. Almost all of them sustained that growth every subsequent year. Dodge Elementary School, one of the first schools we turned around, became the Illinois school with the greatest gains on the ISAT. Five years after it reopened, 72.5 percent of Dodge students scored proficient or above on the ISAT, 55 percentage points higher than the year before its turnaround.
Chicago’s success proves that we as a nation can expect dramatic and quick turnarounds in our lowest-performing schools.
Kentucky's assistance to weak schools has enable most of them to move out of state intervention, but a short list of schools have been chronically unable to change their direction. For that limited group, is it time for Kentucky to consider action as aggressive as this Chicago model?

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