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Know Your Rights
Source: The Washington Post
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

New Analysis Blasts Obama’s School Turnaround Policy — and Tells How to Fix It

The Obama administration’s approach to improving the most troubled schools are nothing more than a toughened version of largely unsuccessful strategies concocted under president George W. Bush and should be replaced with a flexible system that involves parents and communities, according to a new analysis being released today.

The sternly worded analysis is the second punch that the administration has received this week over its education policies. It is landing on the same day that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is addressing the Urban League’s convention in Washington D.C., and a day before President Obama defends his education policies in a major speech to the same gathering.

The report, by a new national coalition of 24 community-based groups, includes a proposal for a new school transformation model that emphasizes community involvement, and a list of more than 2,000 schools across the country targeted for one of the four transformation models now allowed by the administration.

A coalition of civil rights groups** released a framework for education reform on Monday which thrashed Obama’s education policies on a number of issues — including funding equity and charter schools — and said the government should stop using low-income neighborhoods as laboratories for education experiments.

The analysis of school turnaround strategies, released by a new national coalition of community-based groups called Communities for Excellent Public Schools, criticizes the administration for taking “top-down school improvement efforts” that are part of No Child Left Behind and thinking that they will somehow be successful by “adding teeth.” It says that they ignore a growing body of research about what does work.

These are the school turnaround options for districts that were outlined in Obama’s “Blueprint for Reform,” the administration’s plan for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (formally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and that are being tested through the School Improvement Grants program (SIG) :

*Turnaround: The school’s principal and all of its teachers are fired. A new principal may rehire up to 50 percent of the former teachers and must then implement Department-outlined strategies to improve student academic and graduation rates.

*Restart: The district must either convert the school to a charter, or close it and reopen it under outside management–a charter operator, charter management organization or education management organization.

*School Closure: Schools may be closed, with students being transferred to “other, higher achieving schools.”

*Transformation: This model requires that the school principal be replaced (if s/he has been at the school longer than two years) and that schools must choose from an department-determined set of strategies. But under the SIG program, school districts with more than nine targeted schools can only use this model for no more than half.

The report, entitled “Our Communities Left Behind: An Analysis of the Administration’s School Turnaround Policies,” calls them “bad policy and bad educational strategy” for reasons including:

*They are imposed rather than developed with the community, even though research shows that community engagement is essential to sustainable reform of low-performing schools. *They focus primarily on structural, rather than educational change. *They are “one-size-fits” all and do not take into consideration local political, cultural and fiscal considerations.

This analysis includes a list, released for the first time in one document, of 2,136 schools that have been identified as eligible for federal intervention under the School Improvement Grant program. The compilation is the first effort to identify and assess the characteristics of the schools and their students, a demographic analysis compiled by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University:

*Nearly 1.5 million students attend these schools.

*Eighty-one percent of student in these schools are students of color.

*Eighty-five percent of the most urgently targeted schools have high concentrations of poverty (defined as more than 50 percent of students eligible for federal free and reduced priced lunch).

*Black students are 7 1/2 times more likely to be in a SIG-eligible school than white students.

*Hispanic students are 4 1/2 times more likely to be in a SIG-eligible school than white students.

“Few of the schools will see significant academic gains as a result of these interventions,” the report says. “And even fewer of these gains will be sustained over a period of years.”

The report includes a proposal for a new approach to school intervention called “Sustainable School Transformation,” which has these central elements:

1) A strong focus on school culture, curriculum and staffing.

This includes:

–Strong leadership

–Staffing structures that facilitate collaboration

–Professional development designed to meet individual needs of the staff

–A research-based, thoughtfully crafted teacher evaluation program, developed in conjunction with parents, students, teachers and administrators

–A well-rounded, culturally relevant and enriched college and career preparatory curriculum

–Intensive literacy support and “reading recovery” programs to ensure a focus on literacy

2) Wrap-around supports for students

This includes:

–Access to guidance counselors at the high school level

–A positive behavioral approach to school discipline

–Access to primary health care services to address basic wellness issues, including emotional/mental health issues

3) Collaboration to ensure local ownership and accountability

This includes:

–A comprehensive assessment of the school’s individual strengths, challenges and impediments to student success that takes a full school year.

–Students, parents and community members must be full partners in all stages,

“Yes, dramatic action is needed. But we have to get it right.” the report says.

Let’s hope the Education Department is listening.

**Including Make the Road New York (MRNY).