Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) was modeled on Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) but has forged its own path that offers useful insights for other states. The ASD has focused its effort on Memphis, which has the state’s highest concentration of low-performing schools. The ASD has collaborated with high-performing charter operators to conduct school turnarounds in neighborhood schools; collaborated with philanthropic leaders to build a sustainable educator talent pipeline for the bottom 5 percent of the state’s schools; engaged neighborhood communities in the process of matching charter operators to schools selected into the ASD; and influenced district-led turnaround efforts. This case study, commissioned by New Schools for New Orleans and the Achievement School District, examines how these and other ASD’s strategies have resulted in a state turnaround school district distinct from the RSD.
Other Restructuring Strategies
Marking the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this report describes the transformation of public education in New Orleans and considers needed improvements for the next decade to create an excellent system of public schools in New Orleans. The report highlights how the shift to a decentralized system of public charter schools combined with a relentless effort to replace failing schools has produced remarkable gains in student academic achievement and fundamentally changed the role of government in education, the local labor market for educators, and the relationship between New Orleans communities and schools. The report also considers how the pace and magnitude of change presented many challenges to parents, educators, and community members, and discusses what needs to happen next to propel the city to even higher levels of achievement.
Starting Fresh in Low-performing Schools
Public Impact worked 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 A New Option for School District Leaders Under NCLB, which identifies the need for a new beginning at a school and describes the options of initiating a charter school or hiring an outside school manager, and Engaging Parents and the Community, which highlights strategies for bringing key stakeholders to the table.
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 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.
“Extraordinary authority districts”—turnaround districts in which states gain legal authority to take over and operate chronically underperforming schools and/or districts—can fundamentally transform school structures and practices. In this brief, Public Impact, in partnership with America Achieves, compiles common challenges and lessons learned from early-implementing EAD state leaders who met for a wide-ranging discussion in 2013. Many of the takeaways are relevant no matter where a state stands in the process of pursuing a successful school turnaround strategy.
[pdf] Despite the challenges, some districts have taken the decisive step of closing low-performing schools. This paper, written by Lucy Steiner for the Center on Innovation and Improvement, discusses the lessons district officials in four urban districts learned about the school closure process. Recommendations include the need to: 1) consider school closure in the context of a larger reform effort; 2) develop a supply of higher-performing school options; 3) clearly explain to the public how current students will benefit; 4) provide support to families and students during the transition; and 5) provide staff members with clear information about next steps.
This book, from AEI press, features a chapter by Julie Kowal and Bryan C. Hassel on NCLB Remedies in Action: Four of NCLB’s “Restructured” Schools. The chapter is part of a comprehensive evaluation of the NCLB remedies edited by Frederick M. Hess and Chester E. Finn, Jr. and it takes a look at what NCLB restructuring looks like “on the ground” in four schools in Michigan and California. With 2,000-3,000 schools likely to be in restructuring by 2008-09, the case studies offer an important picture of how the restructuring requirements of NCLB are being put into practice at the local level. This chapter was presented in November 2006 at the American Enterprise Institute/Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, “Fixing Failing Schools: Is the NCLB Toolkit Working? conference”. Watch a webcast of the conference here.