The Spin Is In

September 8th, 2010

Category: News

Last Tuesday, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) released the third installment of a three-year study documenting the implementation of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) funds.  In this particular segment, CEP surveyed district personnel’s familiarity with the school turnaround models crafted by the United States Department of Education, which are being implemented throughout both Delaware and the country.

The study is causing quite the stir as people focus in on a key statistic, which states that more than one-third of school districts are unfamiliar with the four turnaround models.

Initial analysis of this data could leave the untrained eye flabbergasted that a significant percentage of our district leaders are uninformed regarding national efforts to turnaround low-performing schools. Digging in deeper to the report, however, reveals a few data points that provide greater context:

  • A statistically significant smaller percentage of urban districts were unfamiliar with the turnaround models (3 to 8 percent, depending on the model) compared to suburbs, towns and rural areas (26 to 50 percent, depending on the model and type of district).
  • Less than 12% of districts have utilized stimulus funds to implement one of the four turnaround models.
  • About half of districts implementing either the turnaround, closure, or restart models had “positive results” while the other half had “unknown, mixed, or poor results.”
  • 91% of districts currently implementing the transformation model reported “positive results” while only 9% reported “unknown, mixed, or poor results.” 

As the data demonstrate, there is much more to the claim that one-third of districts are unfamiliar with the four turnaround models – in fact, the variance in types of school districts familiar with turnaround efforts is large and requires further analysis. For example, we would expect urban communities to express greater familiarity with the turnaround models since they are more likely to have persistently low-performing campuses and receive the majority of their state’s time, energy, and limited resources in conducting this work. 

In addition, a relatively low level of familiarity is predictable since barely one out of ten districts nationwide has direct experience implementing one of the four turnaround models.  In Delaware, when this survey was conducted last spring, no school had applied to the state for funds to implement any of the turnaround models surveyed above.  Therefore, if this survey was Delaware specific, one could expect these numbers to be heavily skewed in a more negative fashion simply because the work hadn’t started here yet. 

This report does, however, provide a glimmer of hope that turnaround efforts will ultimately prove successful.  After less than a year of implementation, more than half of the districts were reporting “positive results” while the rest reported “unknown, mixed, or poor results.”  Therefore, districts are recognizing that these efforts, although painful for all involved parties, could prove beneficial for kids.

In the end, none of the statistics listed above are the most important.  The statistics by which we will judge turnaround efforts include student proficiency on internationally benchmarked assessments, graduation rates, college enrollment without the need for remediation, etc.  We need to put aside the spin and focus our time, energy, and efforts on this incredible moment of opportunity, backed by unprecedented financial and technical resources, to address lagging student achievement at these struggling schools.  The obligation is on all of us to not let common distractions deter us from working together to do what’s right for our kids.

Brett Turner



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