Sunday, March 28, 2010

Failing Schools and Turnaround

Go read the editorial: The Turnaround Myth - Failing schools are best shut down at WSJ.

The short version: successful schools stay successful and failing schools continue to fail. Basically the editorial feels that since schools have rarely been able to effect a turnaround (2% success rate) in the past, no one should attempt a turnaround now.

What the writer misses is that closing the school isn't the right answer because it doesn't address the root causes. A champion school will draw in students - good students - because they want to be with similarly good students. A failing school will retain the failures.

Closing a school doesn't suddenly improve the students, it merely forces the picture to reset and the students to move to another school where they will continue to fail. You can rebuild or repurpose the building but if you then fill it with the same problems you had before, you haven't changed or improved the situation. Ignoring this problem doesn't make it go away.

You might get away with redistribution, hiding the failing students by spreading them out among the good schools and letting the laws of averages cover your tracks. The average scores are probably not going to change much if you keep the numbers to manageable levels. The students at hand are still the same but now are placed among better students - is that going to improve them? No. Osmosis doesn't work that way.

Why is Fairfax VA always a top school? Because wealthy people with academically minded kids are willing to move from Michigan to Virginia to get their kids into the high-powered school in a high-income neighborhood. When you separate cream, you have to do something about the skim milk left behind. Fairfax doesn't get that skim milk, they only get the cream.

Throwing away the failing students doesn't improve them, only the school.

Sorry, Arne.

1 comment: