We attempted to turn around our schools in Rhode Island without making any radical changes and the results are disappointing. Some were hopeful that we’d do better; many predicted this outcome.
Matt Barnum writes in Chalkbeat about the experiment in our little state that appears to have fallen flat. A well intentioned attempt to improve chronically struggling schools without replacing principals and/or staff didn’t work.
Based on two years of data, the results were largely discouraging. Turnaround schools did not boost reading or math scores more than comparable schools that didn’t have to make any changes. And the focus schools, which had to make even more changes, actually seemed to do worse than the turnaround schools that made fewer.
The disappointing outcomes revealed in the study cited by Barnum doesn’t make things easy for states: they have an obligation under ESSA to intervene in the worst 5 percent of schools and there is still no roadmap on how to do it. Nibbling at the edges doesn’t bring about the results we want for kids and severe measures are politically harrowing and almost always unpopular with the community.
Parents may complain about their kids’ teachers but almost nobody wants to see mass firings. So how do we change the culture of a school without changing any of the people? It may be impossible.
There is some evidence that providing additional money and support, paired with a requirement that schools replace a significant share of staff, is a more promising approach. But this is challenging to implement in areas where teachers are scarce and can prompt fierce political and community pushback.
As Rhode Island (and other states) finalize their ESSA plans, it’s imperative that we keep our focus on the schools for which our chosen interventions didn’t work and find the courage and the will to do what is most likely to work. It may be painful but not as painful as schools that haven’t worked for the children they serve for decades.
To read Matt Barnum’s full piece in Chalkbeat, click here.