Akron's school turnaround plan sounds unconvincing

An article in today's Akron Beacon Journal ?about school turnaround caught my eye. Butchels High School and Perkins Middle School both received the second lowest rating (Academic Watch) on last year's report card and as a result will merge into one school (Butchel- Perkins) in hopes of better performance ?starting in the fall of 2012. The schools have been trying to turn themselves around for some time, to no avail. The district has now stepped in with its own transformation plan, although it is unclear from the article whether the district is doing this in anticipation of the turnaround language in the budget(more on this in next week's Ohio Education Gadfly).

Here's what the schools' turnaround plan entails. First, all of the teachers at Butchels and Perkins will have to reapply for their jobs at the end of the year. Half of them will be brought back to teach in the new ?combined? school building, while the other half will be placed elsewhere in another district school. Secondly, Akron is hoping to allow the current principals to remain in the school. Third, when the new school opens in 2012 they will belong to a network of 62 New Tech High Schools across the country that focuses on problem solving and computer literacy. Each student will be given a laptop or tablet so they will be able to access the school's network at any time.

While the reform intentions here should be applauded the plan is problematic for a couple of different reasons. ?How are school officials determining who will teach in the new school versus who will be placed elsewhere? Is it seniority-based? Or do they have other metrics for determining who goes where? ?Simply pushing teachers around ? some of who might be ineffective ? from one school to the next won't solve the problem. Furthermore, Akron should not allow the principals to continue to serve in the new school. If the same leaders are simply transferred over to the new school will anything really improve? Finally, the New Tech approach is costly to implement and sustain. The district will have to pay $500,000 up front to set up the new school and train the staff. They are also applying for several grants and hope to receive $5 million over the next three years to help sustain the new school. ?What happens when the funds dry up, or if they don't get the grants at all?

I congratulate the Akron Public Schools for recognizing the need to reform its lowest public schools, though I hope I'm wrong for being skeptical about whether their reform approach will be effective.

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