Putting the Brakes on Turnarounds

Andy Smarick is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Today, Education Next is releasing my article “The Turnaround Fallacy,” which strongly argues that the education reform world needs to abandon its current fixation on “school turnarounds.”

Though the inclination to fix our worst schools is understandable and is often the result of the best intentions, it is misguided.  The article explains why.  Turnarounds have not only consistently failed in education; they fail in the vast majority of instances in other industries and sectors.  Moreover, and most importantly, continuing to pursue turnarounds actually inhibits our ability to build healthy urban school systems.

This is more than a philosophical debate.  Unless we apply the brakes post haste, we’re going to head down the wrong (and costly) tracks at a breakneck pace.  Secretary Duncan has been strongly advocating for turnarounds since his first days in the administration.  His U.S. Department of Education received $3 billion in “school improvement funds” through the stimulus legislation that might be applied to these activities.  One of the four focus areas for other stimulus programs, including the $50 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund and the much-ballyhooed $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund, is intervening in persistently struggling schools.  Duncan is also encouraging the nation’s best education reform organizations to get into this business.  In short billions of dollars, scarce human resources, and lots of young lives are at stake.

I’m as fierce a proponent as there is for addressing the nation’s worst schools and giving hope to the millions of currently disadvantaged students assigned to them.  Turnarounds aren’t the only option; we have a much, much more promising alternative.

Quite simply, we need to do what every other industry, field, and sector does to address its lowest performers.  This is the first step toward building healthy urban school systems—systems that are dynamic, responsive, and self-improving.

So what is it??!?

Give “The Turnaround Fallacy” a read and find out…

(or click below to check out an interview I did with Education Next.)

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