Hard recovery for failed US schools
(Page 2 of 2)
The Department of Education (DOE) proposes taking the "any other" option off the table. They would also give superintendents the opportunity to suspend collective-bargaining agreements in order to bring highly qualified staff to troubled schools to target students' needs.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
At Sobrante Park, Principal Marco Franco opted for the "any other" option and changed four out of 14 staff members – a smaller percentage than the district wanted. "I knew the staff and I knew I wanted to keep them," Mr. Franco says. "If I lost the proportion the district wanted me to lose, I don't know if we would be in the same place."
Staff changes in Oakland's restructuring efforts are mostly a matter of moving teachers between schools in the district, with principals' hiring options limited by teacher contracts.
CEP found that 30 percent of schools in restructuring in California opted to change their staff, but only 5 percent of these schools went on to meet AYP.
Jennings acknowledges that the research is still too new to draw broad conclusions about what works.
Giving superintendents flexibility to bring better teachers into schools with the highest needs is a good proposal on the part of the DOE, says Amy Wilkins of The Education Trust, a group in Washington, D.C., which advocates for closing achievement gaps. But such moves need to go hand in hand with measuring teachers' effectiveness, she says. "Just getting different faces in the classroom is not the point."
After a year of hearings in communities around the United States, the nonpartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind came out last month with a set of recommendations. On the subject of restructuring, there was agreement that "when a school is struggling consistently, they need to take more aggressive action," says Gary Huggins, the commission's director.
The commission suggests, as does the CEP report, that schools be required to choose a comprehensive set of actions rather than a single intervention. But it also says they should have more time to show results once changes are made.
But it's unfair to mandate restructuring options when "none has any track record of success," says Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing in Cambridge, Mass., which opposes NCLB.
The Oakland Unified School District, run by a state-appointed administrator since 2003 due to financial difficulties, decides case by case how much latitude to give schools in choosing restructuring plans. This year it says it might intervene in 14 schools, possibly closing four.
The plan drawn up by Franco and his staff had many components, but he sums up the philosophy this way: "If something is not working, toss it, man."
That got Franco, a Latino, into hot water with parents when he ended the bilingual program in the upper grades. The complaints tapered off after parents saw test scores improve, he says.
The teachers adopted a more scripted and uniform curriculum, making it easier for them to collaborate and for the principal to evaluate them. The school day was changed to allow teachers time to work with individual students. Franco hired a writing coach and used some money to reopen the school library, which had been converted to storage.