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Report: School turnarounds are based on faulty evidence

A policy brief on school turnarounds published this week — authored by Tina Trujillo of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education and Michelle Renée of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University — sharply criticizes a federal approach to improving public education that’s based on principles of competition and accountability.

It notes that School Improvement Grants, a program designed to “turn around” 5,000 of the nation’s lowest-scoring schools, including a number in the Bay Area, offers only short-term financial support.

I’d love to hear from employees and families at Oakland’s four School Improvement Grant participants — Roots International, United for Success, Alliance, and Elmhurst Community Prep — about the report, and the SIG program, itself.

Here’s one excerpt:

The SIG program’s reforms require massive administrative and teacher replacement, particularly under the “turnaround option.” In the public debate about the SIG program, reforms such as this have been described as new and innovative. In reality, the nation has significant experience with these models, particularly over the past 40 years. Generations of research show that the SIG reforms are based on faulty evidence, unwarranted claims and they ignore contradictory evidence.

The paper goes on to draw a contrast what some in the education world describe as a “market-based” view of public schooling and what the authors consider to be its broader purpose:

Fundamentally, the SIG policy is an extension of the NCLB market-based approach to education, not a change in direction. The policy assumes that schools behave in the same way as private corporations are envisioned to behave when it relies on competition, monitoring, and rigid accountability.

In this way the SIG policy is at odds with a democratic approach to public education, which treats schooling as a public good. Democratic purposes of schooling are far broader than profit-based, market-driven ones. The democratic approach creates opportunities for local communities to publicly deliberate and self-govern. Its goal is to provide all students with equitable opportunities to learn, participate in society, and further social change

Some of the approaches embraced by the authors include:

  • a greater emphasis on teaching and learning, rather than on structural changes, such as staff replacement (one of the big lessons learned from Oakland’s small schools movement, especially at the high school level, though teachers at some of those schools again had to apply for their jobs this year);
  • including multiple measures of effectiveness, not just test scores; and
  • offering support for students and families, especially for those who live in poverty, as OUSD is trying to do with its community schools model.

Where do you stand? Does this take on school turnarounds resonate with your experience?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nontcair

    Democratic purposes of schooling are far broader than profit-based, market-driven ones. The democratic approach creates ..

    According to SacBee, report co-author Tina Trujillo (a UC Profster) makes ~$84K.

    Here we go again. Public education as a political institution.

    The democratic approach created the education catastrophe we have today. One that has existed for a LONG time.

    The local McDonald’s is profit-driven. Many of its crewmembers are proucts of OUSD (meaning it has had to invest a significant amount in training). Indeed, it pays taxes to support OUSD. By and large its customers are the same as those “served” by OUSD.

    McD’s manages to do just fine, and even if it didn’t, aside from a few shareholders, nobody would care.

    Once again we see the private sector taking care of business and the public sector taking care of special interests.

    School Improvement Grants. Really.

  • Yazstremski

    Nontclair…way to go…the last 6 posts are from you, they say the SAME thing, all are off-topic and have absolutely nothing to do with education in Oakland. Do you think no one hears you or no one cares?

  • anon

    re #2 – both.

  • oaklandedlandscape

    “a greater emphasis on teaching and learning, rather than on structural changes, such as staff replacement” – perhaps the staff is why there was no emphasis on teaching and learning.

    “including multiple measures of effectiveness, not just test scores” – graduation rates and a-g completion rates are also low. how about measuring happiness?

    “offering support for students and families, especially for those who live in poverty, as OUSD is trying to do with its community schools model” – schools that serve these same communities are currently doing amazing things.

    No turnarounds. Yes to charter conversions.

  • Nontcair

    I repeat myself because almost every article here — indeed, almost everything put out by the MSM — says pretty much the same thing: government is the solution.

  • Yazstremski

    Nontcair. You are entitled to your opinion, I think we’ve all got it, as I and others have said to you. I’m sure your issues with the “MSM- main stream media” can find an audience on a blog that deals with that topic. I’m not sure why you feel a blog about Oakland schools is where it belongs. You are quite obviously neither a teacher nor a parent of an OUSD student. Really, give it a rest.

  • Nontcair

    Yeah, but nobody reads the NYT blog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BridgetheChasm Charlie at Bridge the Chasm

    I have significant business experience. Continually shuffling staff and bringing “new ideas” is not effective. What is effective is Leadership that brings focus and consistent objectives to those who actually do the work, i.e. teachers, while allowing teachers the flexibility to use their experience and common sense to achieve results.

    If the District set an objective today, that ALL students in the Oakland School district, 2nd grade and above, be able to successfully add up to 9 + 9, and tested for that (maybe with a verbal test so educators could see how the students think through the problem) we would produce significant, meaningful, measurable change for the better in the District.

    I know the concerns some may have: it’s too low a goal; too much focus on math (and reading) makes kids less well rounded; what about the kids who do well, are we dumbing down?

    The beauty of focus is it doesn’t require taking anything away from other activities. In fact, it allows teachers (or anyone who actually does the work in any enterprise) to use their time more effectively because they are working against a single consistent objective. My experience working with students in Oakland leads me to believe 10 – 20% of Oakland’s High Schoolers, can’t successfully add up to 9 + 9. If they were put in a class where they learned to add — not in the context of “rote” but in the context of number sense (i.e the relationship between numbers) — in addition to benefitting the students taught to add, it benefits the students who remain in such classes as Algebra and Geometry, where the presence of students who can’t add makes teaching and learning for the others more difficult.

    For those who say “if the kids haven’t learned by High School they can’t learn”, I say I have never met a student who couldn’t.

  • J.R.

    Charlie,
    Good points, but I don’t recall(I could be mistaken)anyone saying “if kids haven’t learned by high school they can’t learn”. I believe that if a significant number of kids haven’t learned what the curriculum covered then that is an indication that there is a problem in the way that kids are advanced through the system(if that is the case, changes need to be made. I am also a big believer that administration(testing,books) should be as minimal as necessary and the classrooms should get every dime possible.