Is Savannah’s Alfred Ely Beach High a “failing school”? After hiring a new principal in 2005, its graduation rate rose from 49 to 66 percent. Most students now meet state standards. Its school choir was even invited to sing at President Obama’s inauguration. But after seven years on the state’s academic watch list, it’s now primed for state takeover. So district officials identified Beach as a dropout factory under the Department’s School Improvement Grant criteria, and proceeded to fire the principal and require half the staff to reapply for their jobs to strengthen the school’s turnaround application. The school will resume in the fall with a new performance pay program and new restrictions on tenure and seniority. While these measures mesh with the administration’s education-reform priorities—and are, indeed, good ideas—this might be the wrong school to apply them to. Indeed, given Beach High’s impressive recent strides, the shakeup may just knock the wind out of the school’s reform sails. Of course, this is not what the administration intended with SIG—but how surprised can they be? As Arne Duncan occasionally notes, there’s a limit to what policymakers can do from Washington.
"The ABCs of Saving a Failing School," by Claudio Sanchez, NPR, July 6, 2010