School turnaround chief: Collaboration — not forced takeovers — effective in saving failing schools
- Georgia’s top school turnaround expert says the key to salvaging failing schools is collaboration, not compulsion or a state-mandated takeover of those schools. Formerly a chief support officer with the University of Virginia’s school turnaround program, Eric Thomas had this to say to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC): “If we ever get to the point of taking over schools, that means we failed. That means we didn’t do our job very well.”.
- Research suggests that hostile takeovers and large-scale turnaround efforts historically do not work, according to the AJC article. What does work, Thomas says, is pairing school leaders with business executives so that in addition to curriculum and instruction, educators become versed in resource allocation, alignment and returns on investment.
- In addition, Thomas says, many of the challenges faced by failing schools are related to a range of factors that affect young people outside the classroom. Health and wellness screenings, for example, are an integral element in improving school culture. “What I am interested in,” he says, “is how do we assure we are saving kids, not getting rid of kids."
While state takeovers of failing districts and schools have gained momentum in recent years, student performance indicators show that the results are, at best, mixed. A recent study of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, for example, found that student indicators in math, English and science parallel those of students in non-ASD, or district-run, schools. At the same time, a longstanding state takeover of New Orleans public schools has shown significant gains in, among other things, student performance, graduation rates and college attendance.
The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states greater flexibility for dealing with low-performing schools, but what that will look like remains to be seen. A Center for American Progress report points to 25 states that allow states or districts to change the governing structures of struggling schools, while an Education Week article points to state takeover efforts that have been curtailed, stalled or come to an end.
In addition, many leading educators say that the best approach to dealing with failing schools is to focus on the issues related to poverty that hold children back. School turnaround expert Julie Corbett told The Hechinger Report that for failing high schools in particular, it’s about providing students with wraparound services, such as dental care, healthcare, child care, and weekend jobs, to name a few.
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution Georgia’s kinder, gentler approach to turning around failing schools