Low-performing schools need more than self-help jargon

Have you ever wanted to grow your ?emotional intelligence including managing your gremlin,? while receiving training in ?resilience? or ?creativity?? You might want to check out LifeTrek Inc., a life and career coaching company run by a couple out of their Virginia home. While there's nothing wrong with seeking to ?stress proof? your life or renew your self esteem ? there is something terribly wrong with folks in this line of work marketing their services in search of big bucks from school turnarounds.

Leave it to the New York Times to expose ?inexperienced companies? that are diving into the school turnaround business. One such company, LifeTrek, has now expanded its umbrella of coaching service to schools through the Center For Evocative Coaching (online at www.schooltransformation.com).

Here's a blurb from the site:

Are you a good school looking to become great? Are you a low-performing school looking to move up the ladder? Are you a conventional school looking to become more creative and innovative? Are you a school in conflict looking to become more trusting and collaborative? Whatever your circumstances, the Center for School Transformation can assist you to get where you want to go.

We do this by facilitating new conversations in schools through Story Listening, Expressing Empathy, Appreciative Inquiry, and Design Thinking.

NYTimes reports that Ohio has put the center on its list of approved school turnaround specialists, despite that fact that the organization has zero experience in transforming schools.? I would be rolling on the floor laughing at this story if it weren't about Ohio, a state that just received $132 million in School Improvement Grants to turn around perennial underperforming schools (and which allowed the vast majority of them to choose the least disruptive option). And you don't have to be an Andy Smarick fan or follower (though I recommend you be both) to know that school turnarounds are incredibly difficult. It's the perhaps the most-criticized element of Sec. Duncan's reform agenda ? he's pushed the concept of school turnarounds hard despite little evidence of scalable success.

I have the deepest and utmost respect for folks that offer (or wish to receive) resilience coaching, or who want to participate in ?story listening? and ?design thinking? or any other type of self-improvement services. My husband is a psychotherapist and I readily admit I'm one of those people at the Barnes & Noble caf? with a mountain of oddly-titled self-help books on my table. (Doesn't everybody want to know which chakras are misaligned, and how you can be empowered without being angry?)

But I also think it's delusional to assume that such services can be lifted from a therapist's office and applied systemically to abjectly performing schools in desperate need of transformation.? This is the quickest way to undermine turnaround efforts. Ohio already has experience when it comes to an idea gone awry because of poor implementation and lack of quality control ? charter schools. Without efforts to ensure quality control (sorry LifeTrek, you need to be yanked from the list) Ohio's experience with school turnarounds will head down the same path.

- Jamie Davies O'Leary

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