Starting Fresh in Failing Schools
The Role of Charter Restarts in School Reform: Honoring our Commitments to Students and Public Accountability
The report, prepared by Daniela Doyle and Tim Field for NewSchools Venture Fund, explores a variation on school closure where a charter school’s operator and governance (board) changes, while the school continues to serve the same students — charter school “restarts.” The report examines how charter restarts fit within the larger context of charter school quality and accountability and describes how restarts have played out at five charter schools. It concludes with a series of recommendations for board members and charter authorizers interested in pursuing a restart strategy.
Public Impact is also working with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers on a series of publications specifically on “starting fresh” – the chartering and contracting options. The series includes an overview and how-to guides on selecting the right providers, engaging parents and community, and setting clear contract terms.
This report, co-authored by Bryan Hassel and Lucy Steiner and funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation, outlines a new approach states can use to respond to schools that continue to struggle despite interventions and accountability measures. Under the “starting fresh” strategy, the state or district essentially opens a new school within the walls of the existing schools. The report discusses why states and districts should add this approach to their toolboxes, and examines the practical challenges of implementing a starting fresh strategy.
Public Impact has developed this series of resources in conjunction with the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. The series includes a guide to help district and state leaders [33 MB pdf] choose the best restructuring option for each school, updated in a 2nd edition released in 2009, and white papers identifying what we know from research about when the first four restructuring options under NCLB work: reopening as a charter school, contracting with external providers, turnarounds with new leaders and staff, and state takeovers.
District-led, dramatic change efforts in failing schools—including turnarounds and school closures—often face strong resistance from families and communities. Resistance may be based on years of tension and distrust between districts and communities, failed past school improvement efforts, or a lack of understanding about the chasm between a failing school’s performance and what is possible. We asked what districts and community organizations have done to engage families and communities in demanding dramatic change in their schools and how various stakeholders have been involved in establishing shared values and goals for change, choosing from available options, and holding districts accountable for improving outcomes for children. This report and related presentation share lessons learned about the barriers districts and communities across the country have faced in building community demand for dramatic change as well as strategies for overcoming those barriers. The report includes three vignettes about efforts to build community demand for dramatic change in Denver, Philadelphia, and Chicago schools. Report [pdf] Presentation [pdf]
[pdf] One strategy for turning around low-performing schools is to contract with management organizations to operate the schools. Public Impact helped Mass Insight Education conduct a market analysis of the environment for school restructuring by charter management organizations in six target urban areas: Chicago, the District of Columbia, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland, and Philadelphia for NewSchools Venture Fund. The report revealed interest in this approach to restructuring in three of the districts (Chicago, NYC, and Philadelphia). But even in those districts, constraints prevent this strategy from being widely used. Most notable is the gap between the kinds of autonomy school operators require and the level districts are currently able to offer.