SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Closing schools = turnaround?

In September, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration are set to announce the “winner” states that will receive Race to the Top funding, an ongoing competitive grants program that hands out money to states that can prove they’re sufficiently committed to education reform.

To recap, Race to the Top funding is incumbent on four “turnaround” models — all of which we’re seeing in the political machinations taking place in our own school district. They are:

  • Turnaround model: Replace the principal and rehire no more than 50% of the staff, and grant the principal sufficient operational flexibility (including in staffing, calendars/time and budgeting) to fully implement a comprehensive approach to substantially improve student outcomes.
  • Restart model: Convert a school or close and reopen it under a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process.
  • School closure: Close a school and enroll the students who attended that school in other schools in the district that are higher achieving.
  • Transformation model: Implement each of the following strategies: (1) replace the principal and take steps to increase teacher and school leader effectiveness; (2) institute comprehensive instructional reforms; (3) increase learning time and create community-oriented schools; and (4) provide operational flexibility and sustained support.

In the Washington Post today, writer Valerie Strauss shares a letter from parent activist, Rita Solnet:

Secretary Duncan, you have an opportunity to be the hero this country needs. You have the ability to stop these initiatives and regroup. Gain input from all levels of ’stakeholders’ in the process, gain endorsement of a new plan–a plan in which all levels of stakeholders take pride in developing and launching. Congresswoman Judy Chu’s plan is a great first start. The DOE’s proposed four (4) turnaround models [for the worst schools in each state] will not work. Scrap them, start over. Closing public schools should not be an option.


Written by scusdobserver

July 19, 2010 at 7:38 am

2 Responses

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  1. San Diego Unified School District
    State of the District Address
    Richard Barrera, Board President, March 24, 2010

    From my perspective, the debate tends to come from two competing visions of how we can do better. One vision fundamentally sees change as needing to come from the top – what I would characterize – maybe unfairly – as a corporate model. The corporate model, which we’ve seen nationally in the form of the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind program, and locally in the form of Alan Bersin’s Blueprint for Success, seeks to develop across the board, easy to measure standards to which local schools and classroom teachers are held accountable.
    Putting faith in good management as the key to improving student outcomes, the corporate model seeks to reward schools and teachers whose students score well on standardized tests, and to punish schools and teachers whose students do not. The corporate model gravitates towards large, sweeping reforms that are designed to produce quick improvements for large numbers of students – what education historian and No Child Left Behind architect Diane Ravitch calls the “big idea.”
    The competing vision for reform comes from what I would characterize as the community model. This vision sees change as fundamentally coming from those closest to kids – teachers, parents, principals, support staff at the school such as paraeducators, counselors, librarians and office staff, community volunteers and even students themselves. The community model puts its faith in strong relationships built between people within a school community, striving for what University of Chicago professors Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider term “Trust in Schools.”
    Teachers in the community model cherish small class sizes, where they have an opportunity to really get to know their students and parents, and tailor their teaching to the individual learning styles of each student. Principals in the community model value stability over the next “big idea,” striving to keep in place a staff that can work well as a team, and achieve consistent improvement over time.
    While I understand and respect the sense of urgency that motivates both models of improving schools, and while I certainly see areas where the two models can overlap, I believe it is absolutely essential for our kids that this District and this Board embrace the community model. The reason for this is clear, and goes beyond ideology or politics. The community model works, and continues to produce the consistent gains in student achievement that has eluded the corporate model after more than a decade of practice.

    Leo Bennett-Cauchon

    July 19, 2010 at 4:17 pm

  2. Congresswoman’s Chu’s Save Our Schools plan is a great improvement over the School Improvement Grants program that SCUSD is chasing with the Superintendent’s priority schools initiative. This initiative is already disrupting and damaging the collaboration necessary for sustainable improvement. San Diego Unified’s Board president recently spoke about the difference between their community school improvement approach and the corporate school improvement model. SCUSD should not be repeating the mistakes that San Diego made and other urban school systems are experiencing as they chase the money. San Diego did apply for SIG grants through a school by school choice approach not through a top down approach. When one of the four Race to the Top options was embraced by a school community it can be made to work. When it is forced on a school like SCUSD is proceeding any improvements will be short term and at an unacceptable cost to the students being sacrificed to standardized testing.

    Leo Bennett-Cauchon

    July 19, 2010 at 4:17 pm

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