By Paola Gilliam and Sharon Kebschull Barrett
When a school struggles to support student learning year after year, schools need dramatic changes, but for too long the choice seemed to be to close the school or attempt an internal turnaround. How has the third option—restarting a school with the same students but with a new operator and flexibilities—made a difference to student success?
Read our new study analyzing the progress of restarts that began between 2010 and 2016, and visit the new, interactive, national database dashboard to see eight years of data on the country’s restarted schools.
In Restart as a School Improvement Strategy, the Public Impact team, including Lyria Boast and Preston Faulk, define a restart as a new organization—most often a charter school operator—taking responsibility for managing a chronically low-performing school.
The study’s main takeaways include:
- Restarts Positively Affected School Performance: On average, restarts have a positive and statistically significant impact on both English language arts (ELA) and math after six years, and those gains were larger than the average gains their surrounding districts made. The gains were also larger than in schools using the “turnaround” and “transformation” methods under the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG).
- Restarts Remain Relatively Low-Performing. But restarted schools still did not, on average, become high-performing; the average restarted school remained in the bottom quintile after six years.
- Restarts Made Largest Gains in First Years After Implementation: On average, restarts made their largest gains in ELA in the first three years after restarting and their largest gains in math in the first two years, based on the adjusted statewide percentile ranking of their schoolwide proficiency rates (SPR). Gains slowed after that, with school performance actually declining on average in the fifth year after restarting. These results suggest that the first three years provide a reasonable window for gauging initial restart success, and that more is needed to maintain success.
- Top Restarts and SIG Schools Offer Reason for Optimism: On average, top-quartile restarts made three to four times more growth by year 5 than the average restart, causing schools to jump to the 26th and 34th percentiles in ELA and math, respectively. Top-quartile SIG turnaround and transformation schools made similarly large gains, suggesting a large opportunity for success if school leaders implement these strategies well.
See the report for more, and use the database dashboard to see where restarts are located and results by city, both created with support from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.
“We’re pleased to be able to offer the field this comprehensive database, with interactive tools that allow users to delve into the details,” said Lyria Boast, Public Impact’s vice president for data analytics.
The field needs more research into why restarts seem to outperform other intervention methods, and what sets top-quartile restarts and other SIG schools apart from their peers. And as more operators run a city’s schools, and the lines between district and charter blur, research should look at how those efforts affect one another—and student learning—throughout a city.