Policy | News

Restructuring is Most Common Approach to Improving Low-Performing Schools

Most state education agencies have chosen to close or restructure low-performing schools rather than shifting more effective educators to those schools, according to a new report from the United States Department of Education.

The report, "State Implementation of Reforms Promoted Under the Recovery Act," evaluated state-level adoption of educational reforms implemented under the Recovery Act in the years 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. The Recovery Act required SEAs to commit to four key areas of reform in order to qualify for funding under the Act. One of those key areas was support for low-performing schools. The other areas were adoption of Common Core State Standards, establishment of data systems for performance improvement and improved teacher effectiveness.

The Recovery Act promoted four avenues of improving low-performing schools:

  • Expansion of the number of charter schools;
  • Implementation of one of the school intervention models defined by ED;
  • Use of compensation incentives to improve staffing at low-performing schools; and
  • Deployment of effective educators in low-performing schools.

Only nine SEAs chose to implement either of the last two options, both of which were intended to encourage more effective educators to move to low-performing schools, and 28 SEAs allowed for expansion of the number of charter schools.

However, almost all SEAs provided their local education agencies with guidance on implementing one of the four school intervention models defined by ED.

The four intervention models included:

  • The turnaround model, which involves replacing the school principal and implementing new policies and procedures designed to improve student achievement;
  • The restart model, which involves converting the school to a charter school or shifting its operation to an education management organization;
  • The school closure model, which involves closing the school and moving the students to higher-performing schools; and
  • The transformation model, which uses the turnaround model with additional policies and procedures related to staffing.

The report from ED did not identify which of the four intervention models SEAs chose, but 50 of the 51 SEAs provided guidance on implementing at least one of them.

According to the report, when implementing reforms related to improvement of low-performing schools, one of the biggest challenges was dealing with "concerns or opposition from educators about closing or restructuring schools," with 48 of 51 SEAs reporting that challenge. Another major challenge had to do with rules and regulations related to hiring practices and the degree of autonomy available to districts and schools in staffing or budgeting.

The full report, "State Implementation of Reforms Promoted Under the Recovery Act," is available as a downloadable PDF from the Institute of Education Sciences site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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