School Restructuring Under No Child Left Behind: What Works When?


Organizational restructuring is common practice for many private businesses, but few in public education have tried it (one exception can be found in Dayton--see here). That may soon change. The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandates restructuring for schools failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for five years in a row. (AYP requires that all student subgroups--economically disadvantaged, ethnic/minority, special education, etc.--also meet proficiency levels set by the state.)

So how to go about it? School Restructuring Under No Child Left Behind: What Works When? describes the available options. Under NCLB, school restructuring can take five forms: a turnaround, whereby the principal, the curriculum, and some staff are replaced in hopes of better results; chartering and contracting, whereby districts can outsource school operations to an outside entity; a state takeover, whereby the district turns a troubled school over to the state; and "other," which encompasses all remaining restructuring arrangements aimed at fundamental reforms.

What Works When? offers a step-by-step guide to each restructuring option (or at least the first four, as "other" remains a challenge simply to define)--complete with worksheets, checklists, and decision trees. Turnarounds are often the easiest route for many districts, provided a change-minded principal is available. Both chartering and contracting (depending on state charter laws) offer the benefits of using educational management organizations with track records of raising student achievement quickly.

Central to any restructuring efforts, regardless of the chosen route, is competent leadership. Reform leaders--whether found within districts or brought in from the outside--must be identified and engaged early in the restructuring process. To help, the guide provides tools to identify change-minded leaders. Yet, looking at the qualifications, many states could be in short supply. 

Ohio can waste little time searching for its cadre of reformers. Last year, 9 percent of schools rated "Excellent," 35 percent of "Effective" schools, and 69 percent of schools rated in "Continuous Improvement" by the state--over 1400 schools total--missed federal AYP goals. And as AYP targets continue to rise and become more difficult to meet, large numbers of school districts will be forced to consider school restructuring.

For districts across the state, indeed the country, this means sailing in uncharted seas. While What Works When? can't promise stakeholders safe passage, it may at least offer a lodestar for mapping the waters of serious school reform.

Download a copy of the report here.

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