Are Bad Schools Immortal?

A new Fordham report suggests that bad schools don’t get better or closed.

This study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute finds that low-performing public schools—both charter and traditional district schools—are stubbornly resistant to significant change. After identifying more than 2,000 low-performing charter and district schools across ten states, analyst David Stuit tracked them from 2003-04 through 2008-09 to determine how many were turned around, shut down, or remained low-performing. Results were generally dismal. Seventy-two percent of the original low-performing charters remained in operation—and remained low-performing—five years later. So did 80 percent of district schools.

Sarah Sparks has a great summary on EdWeek

Chester E. Finn Jr., the Fordham Institute’s president, said the findings suggest that during a five-year period after the federal No Child Left Behind Act’s accountability provisions established closure as an option for low-performing schools, improvement interventions “just didn’t work out very often.”  “Real turnarounds are extremely scarce, and shutdowns were a little more common but still pretty scarce,” Mr. Finn said.

The most important aspect of the political consensus around NCLB was the good school promise, a basic framework for school accountability that was supposed to address chronic failure in a progressively more aggressive fashion until the school is better or closed.  It is obviously politically difficult, and sometimes logistically difficult, to close bad schools, but it is very disappointing that state and district leaders continue to allow chronic failure.
This report underscores the difficult trifecta of 2000-2010 edreform, 1) fixing struggling schools is hard, 2) we know how to open good schools, and 3) we should close bad schools and open good schools.  The example of trading bad seats for good seats may be Joel Klein’s most important legacy.
If you care about equity of opportunity, the chronic failure of schools predominantly serving low income and minority students must be job one.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.