We just don’t know how to turnaround failing schools, but we do know how to start good new schools. We should do what we know works. That’s the message from Andy Smarick in his important EdNext article, The Turnaround Fallacy.
I’ve been involved with the development of 1200 new schools and efforts to turnaround 800 schools. Most of the former worked pretty well. Most of the later didn’t work very well. These were predominantly secondary schools which are far more difficult to fix than elementaries (where the form factor isn’t fundamentally flawed). This body of evidence supports Andy’s recommendation to close bad schools and open good schools.
However, closing struggling schools is very difficult for a local or state superintendent; every school has a constituency. We don’t have much experience organizing under-served communities for better schools. The LA CMO’s did a great job turning people out to support Yolie’s initiative to bid out new and replacement schools. Parent Revolution has successfully piloted organizing strategies around failing schools. If we push for more restarts than turnaround efforts, we’ll need to scale organizing efforts like Parent Revolution to mobilize support. Turnarounds are a technical problem. Restarts pose a political problem.