School Turnaround in Queen City
The banks of the Ohio river don't initially seem to be a hotbed of education reform.?? But the Cincinnati Public Schools is now??host to three school turnaround efforts, one of the most hotly debated and trendy education reforms as of late. Arne Duncan himself has allocated 545 million dollars of federal money in a call for the nation to turnaround the lowest 5% of its schools.?? Like many reform efforts in education, weighing in is difficult because there are so many unknowns regarding what makes a school turnaround successful. But a few pros and cons can be generalized. Drawbacks to turnaround efforts include: not having enough human capital (does Duncan expect to find 5,000 dynamic principals and a quarter of a million excellent teachers crawling out of the woodwork?), dramatic costs, lack of evidence to inform those spending our public dollars on turnaround efforts, and the potential for school closure or turnaround to erode community support (see Fordham's Andy Smarick's thoughts on the topic here, here, and here).?? The list could go on.?? But the pros, if not many, are compelling.?? School turnarounds are a logical consequence??for schools which have??languished in the state of Academic Emergency (such as Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, South Avondale School, and Mount Airy school in Cincinnati). They represent a follow-through to NCLB's mandates that districts and schools bring students up to proficiency. And one could make the argument that students and parents??deserve to be protected from grossly underperforming schools.??As Secretary Duncan said, "States and districts have a legal obligation to hold administrators and teachers accountable, demand change and, where necessary, compel it. They have a moral obligation to do the right thing for those children - no matter how painful and unpleasant."
Successful turnarounds are rare; Mastery Charter Schools??in Philadelphia, Green Dot in LA, efforts in Denver, Hartford, Pittsburgh have all been lauded by the Secretary of Education.?? What do these efforts have in common??? Is there a good model to be found for turnarounds? Do we have the capacity for large-scale turnaround efforts??? So far we don't know.?? But here in Ohio we'll be waiting and watching Cincinnati to find out.