The National Journal question this morning was, “What are the best methods for school improvement?”
We’ve learned a good deal about improving elementary schools in the last decade. A focused leader, data driven instruction, and improved time on task can quickly boost lagging reading and math scores.
Secondary schools are a different matter. The only thing wrong with a failing high school is everything–course offering, instruction, student support, scale, structure, culture and community connections. Changing all these variables rapidly is a challenge.
The Department has laid out four improvement strategies. In order of severity, they include transformation, turnaround, restart, and closure. For low achievement, low attainment high schools, closure and replacement (‘restart’) is the only option for dramatic improvement. This strategy has been used successfully in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. It looks promising in LA.
Capacity is another consideration. There are dozens of charter management organizations with a track record of opening high performing secondary schools. There are few organizations that have a track record of turning around failing high schools (New Visions in NYC and MLA Partner Schools in LA are giving it a good run).
However, restarts require a good dose of political capital–more than most state or local superintendents are willing to spend. Perhaps the dangling billions of ARRA will bolster courage.