Turning Around Low-Performing Schools: District and State Strategies

Reading List: Research on School Turnaround

Turnaround Guides

The research on successful turnarounds, where schools have experienced dramatic changes in student achievement as a result of transformative change, is limited. However, a handful of organizations have developed practice guides for turning around chronically-low performing schools. One such guide, produced by the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) is referenced below while a second guide, produced by Mass Insight can be found on the State Support Strategies page.

**Herman, R., Dawson, P., Dee, T., Greene, J., Maynard, R., Redding, S., and Darwin, M. (2008). Turning around chronically low-performing schools: A practice guide (NCEE #2008-4020). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Available at http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/PracticeGuide.aspx?sid=7

This document offers a brief review of the rationale for and evidence supporting turnaround efforts of chronically low-performing schools. The authors note that the level of evidence for effective strategies is low. The report provides four recommendations for achieving dramatic improvement in low-performing schools.

Restructuring Options: Evidence from NCLB

The final guidelines for the Race to the Top Fund, released in November 2009, identify four specific approaches to turning around the lowest-achieving five percent of a state’s persistently lowest-performing schools. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002 also identifies several “restructuring” options for restructuring schools that have failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for five consecutive years. As outlined in the table below, two of the mandated Race to the Top approaches mirror three of the five options outlined under NCLB.

This section includes reports on the effectiveness of the restructuring options outlined in the Race to the Top guidance. It begins with two overviews of the NCLB restructuring options that describe the evidence of change that has resulted from pursuing these options. Following these overviews, we include papers that address specific Race to the Top approaches: replacement of staff (addressed in the turnaround model), conversion to charters and contracting with an educational management organization (addressed in the restart model), and school closure.

Intervention Race to the Top NCLB
Turnaround model “A turnaround model is one in which an LEA must replace the principal and…screen all existing staff and rehire no more than 50 percent.” [see Race to the Top guidance for additional criteria.] “Replacing all or most of the school staff (which may include the principal) who are relevant to the failure to make adequate yearly progress.”
Restart model “A restart model is one in which an LEA converts a school or closes and reopens a school under a charter school operator, a charter management organization (CMO), or an education management organization (EMO) that has been selected through a rigorous review process.” “Reopening the school as a public charter school.”
“Entering into a contract with an entity, such as a private management company, with a demonstrated record of effectiveness, to operate the public school.”
School closure “School closure occurs when an LEA closes a school and enrolls the students who attended that school in other schools in the LEA that are higher achieving. These other schools should be within reasonable proximity to the closed school and may include, but are not limited to, charter schools or new schools for which achievement data are not yet available.” Not mandated under NCLB.
Transformation Model “To the extent that these strategies are not possible, implementing a school transformation model that includes…” [see Race to the Top guidance for full text]. Not mandated under NCLB.

NOTE: The fourth Race to the Top option should not be confused with NCLB’s “any other” restructuring option, which is a less specific and prescriptive approach.

Overview of NCLB Restructuring Options

**Mathis, WJ. (2009). NCLB’s ultimate restructuring alternatives: Do they improve the quality of education? East Lansing, MI: The Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice. Available at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/docs/Policy_Briefs/Mathis_Restructuring.pdf

This paper reviews the independent research on the restructuring options under NCLB for schools that fail to make AYP for five years. It examines the frequency of use, effect on test scores, and other effects for the four prescribed options and provides a brief overview of the fifth, “any other” option. The author concludes that no evidence exists that any of the restructuring options will result in significantly improved education.

Center on Education Policy. (2008). A call to restructure restructuring: Lessons from the No Child Left Behind Act in five states. Washington, DC: Author. Available at http://www.readingfirst.virginia.edu/elibrary_pdfs/RestructuringCrossStateReportSep2008.pdf

This report synthesizes findings from research on NCLB restructuring in five states with relatively large numbers of schools in restructuring: California, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, and Ohio. The findings are reported at the national, state, and local level. The report finds that the “any-other” restructuring option is the most popular of the five restructuring options outlined in federal law. The report makes several recommendations, including expanding federal options for restructuring and suggesting states refrain from utilizing the option of staff replacement unless certain criteria are met.

Replacing Leaders and Staff

Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. (2005). School restructuring options under No Child Left Behind: What works when? Turnarounds with new leaders and staff. Washington, DC: Learning Point Associates. Available at http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED502903

This paper focuses on the replacement of school leaders and staff as a restructuring option under NCLB. The paper reviews research about the effects of replacing leaders and staff, both within education and in the business, nonprofit, and public sectors. The authors find that within public education, academic progress among these schools is mixed. The authors use the literature review, as well as interviews with national experts, to outline key success factors and challenges associated with successfully improving performance under this restructuring approach.

Converting to Charters

Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (2005). School restructuring options under No Child Left Behind: What works when? Reopening as a charter school. Washington, DC: Learning Point Associates. Available at http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED502902

This paper focuses on the process of reopening an existing school as a charter school, one of the restructuring options under NCLB. The paper reviews research about charter school openings, including the opening of a new school as a charter and the reopening of a school to replace a low-performing traditional public school. In particular, the report notes that most charter schools are opened as brand new schools, and that research about the impact of charters on student performance is mixed. The authors use the literature review, as well as interviews with researchers and practitioners across the country, to outline key success factors and challenges associated with successfully improving performance under this restructuring approach.

Center for Research in Education Outcomes. (2009). Charter school performance in California. Stanford, CA: Author. Available at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/7493062/CHARTER-SCHOOL-PERFORMANCE-IN-CALIFORNIA-credostanfordedu

This report on charter schools in California is supplemental to a larger national assessment of charter school impacts 16 states. The overall results for California are mixed, with the typical student showing more progress in reading and less in mathematics than their traditional public school counterparts. Additionally, the authors report that students in poverty and English language learners in California charter schools do better in both reading and math than their counterparts in traditional public schools. These differences are statistically significant but small in magnitude.

Contracting with Educational Management Organizations

Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. (2005). School restructuring options under No Child Left Behind: What works when? Contracting with external education management providers. Washington, DC: Learning Point Associates. Available at http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED502901

This paper focuses on schools contracting with an external management organization (EMO) as a restructuring option under NCLB. The paper reviews research about district experiences with EMOs, noting the mixed impacts on student outcomes. The authors use the literature review, as well as interviews with researchers and practitioners across the country, to outline key success factors and challenges associated with successfully improving performance under this restructuring approach.

Closing Schools

Steiner, L. (2009). Tough decisions: Closing persistently low-performing schools. Lincoln, IL: Center on Innovation & Improvement. Available at http://www.centerii.org/survey/downloads/Tough_Decisions.pdf

This paper offers a preliminary exploration of school closure as an approach to address consistently low-performing schools. The author profiles four districts that have chosen to close schools: Chicago, Denver, Hartford, and Pittsburgh. While the paper does not explore the impact of school closure on student outcomes, it does examine several implementation lessons drawn from the districts’ experiences and offers recommendations for district and state officials to consider.

**This document is considered a priority reading.