Inside School Turnarounds: Urgent Hopes, Unfolding Stories

Amanda Olberg

Laura Pappano, Inside School Turnarounds: Urgent Hopes, Unfolding Stories (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

This new book takes a case-study approach to school turnaround efforts, weaving a “narrative web” as it profiles schools nationwide that have seen large improvements in student outcomes. (Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati, for example, brought its graduation rate up from 25 percent to 95 percent over a seven year period). The author investigates turnarounds from all angles and finds, unsurprisingly, that there is no one model for school improvement and large-scale change isn’t likely to come quickly. We find in these pages an honest look at a handful of success stories, a few failures, and the people involved in both. The book addresses the policy context for turnarounds; the moral, political, and social forces at play; the disparate approaches that leaders take; and the critical role that teachers play. The text is accessible and engaging. Regrettably, success stories in this realm are like needles in a haystack. (Check back next week for the latest study from Fordham, which will offer some hard data on this topic—and, unfortunately, a more depressing message.)