Some Education Department spin
It didn’t take long for the U.S. Education Department to try to link its school turnaround policy to the new report that says that the number of high school “dropout factories” has declined in the last decade.
On the same day that the report “Building a Grad Nation" was released, the department issued a press release saying:
“As the recently released "Building a Grad Nation" report provides a renewed call to action to address high school graduation rates, the U.S. Department of Education announced today that of the more than 700 schools receiving School Improvement Grants (SIG) to implement one of the four turnaround models this year, 48 percent are high schools.
"In the past, low-performing high schools have been almost totally ignored in most districts’ school turnaround efforts," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "Yet nearly half of the 730 schools implementing one of the four models this year are high schools."
That sounds like an attempt to link the policy to the report, which said that the number of U.S. “dropout factory” high schools declined from 2002 through 2008, though close to 40 percent of minority students continue to fail to graduate with their class.
The number of dropout factory high schools fell by 261, from a high of 2,007 in 2002 to 1,746 in 2008, a decline of 13 percent, the report said, and the actual number of students in these schools dropped by 15 percent.
“Dropout factories,” first identified by Johns Hopkins University researchers early in this decade, are defined as schools at which less than 60 percent of students who started as freshmen are still enrolled four years later. Half of the nation’s dropouts are believed to come from these schools.
Here’s one problem with making any link between the Obama turnaround policy and the decline in dropout factories: The drop detailed in the report occurred between 2002 and 2008. Obama didn’t become president until 2009.
Here’s another: One of the authors of the study, Johns Hopkins University researcher Robert Balfanz, made clear in an interview that no single approach led to the decline, and that school districts used varying combinations of measures to improve their sagging schools. One thing they all did have in common was that the solutions that worked in each area included a mix of in-school and out-of-school supports for students.
“If there were a silver bullet, we would have figured it out a long time ago. It’s a matrix of support,” said Marguerite W. Kondracke, president and chief executive officer of Gen. Colin Powell’s nonprofit America’s Promise Alliance, one of the co-sponsors of the report, (along with the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins and the public policy firm Civic Enterprises).
In fact, the report notes that one of the issues that will hinder efforts to make more progress in turning around dropout factories is that there is simply "not enough manpower in high-needs schools to provide" supports at the scale needed.
The issue of providing students with a variety of academic, health, psychological and other support has become important because the Obama administration’s policy on “turning around” failing schools involves four options for individual schools that have nothing to do with providing kids with help. The options are considered by both Democratic and Republican critics to be punitive, and some members of Congress have complained that they are inflexible and ignore community and parental involvement.
The four turnaround models available to districts dealing with the chronically lowest performing schools:
*Turnaround Model – This would include among other actions, replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of the school’s staff, adopting a new governance structure and implementing a new or revised instructional program.
*Restart Model – School districts would close failing schools and reopen them under the management of a charter school operator, a charter management organization or an educational management organization selected through a rigorous review process. A restart school would be required to admit, within the grades it serves, any former student who wishes to attend.
*School Closure – The district would close a failing school and enroll the students who attended that school in other high-achieving schools in the district.
*Transformational Model – Districts would address four specific areas: 1) developing teacher and school leader effectiveness, which includes replacing the principal who led the school prior to commencement of the transformational model, 2) implementing comprehensive instructional reform strategies, 3) extending learning and teacher planning time and creating community-oriented schools, and 4) providing operating flexibility and sustained support.
If the report suggests anything, it is that much more is needed to turn around a school than simply moving around teachers, administrators and kids.
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| December 1, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Tags: america's promise, arne duncan, building a grad nation, dropout crisis, dropout factories, education department, high schools, school dropouts, school reform, turnaround models
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