Beyond School Closings: Effective Alternatives for Low-Performing Schools

Education and Literacy, Poverty

Beyond School Closings: Effective Alternatives for Low-Performing Schools

Parents from low-income and working-class communities in New York City have been fighting for years for dramatic improvements in struggling neighborhood schools. Now the Obama administration has focused its education agenda on this challenge and is investing billions of dollars in turning around failing schools. This dramatic increase in political and financial support creates an opportunity for districts to focus on equity and finally get the work of improving lowperforming schools right.

Federal funding for school turnaround has already begun to flow. In the next few months, thirty four NYC schools (thirty-three high schools and one elementary school) will start receiving up to $2 million each year for three years in School Improvement Grants (SIG) to implement one of the four federal options:

  1. Restart: Convert the school to charter, or close and reopen it as a charter school
  2. Closure: Close a school and enroll the students in other higher-achieving schools
  3. Turnaround: Phase out the existing school and replace it with new schools (NYC version of turnaround)
  4. Transformation: Replace the principal and redesign the school by increasing learning time, reforming curriculum and instruction, and increasing teaching quality

To take strategic advantage of this opportunity to create sustainable change in our city's most struggling schools, the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) urges the NYC Department of Education (DOE) to create a School Transformation Zone to support these schools in implementing effective school improvement models without collateral damage to other schools. Innovation cannot be reserved only for better performing schools; the Zone will support comprehensive, innovative plans that will increase student achievement in the lowest-performing schools.

May 2010

Geographic Focus: North America-United States (Northeastern)-New York

Learning from Turnaround Middle Schools: Strategies for Success

Education and Literacy

Learning from Turnaround Middle Schools: Strategies for Success

In New York City and around the nation, there is intense interest in the question of what it takes to turn around a low-performing school. This study focused on two sets of initially low-performing NYC middle schools. The first group (the "turnaround schools") exhibited significant growth in academic performance between 2006 and 2010, while the other group saw minimal growth or remained stagnant during the same period. To gain an understanding of how the turnaround schools improved, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with principals and focus groups with teachers in both sets of schools.

This report presents a rich picture of the conditions and strategies that enabled the turnaround schools to boost student achievement. Specifically, it identifies three interrelated "essential conditions" that were largely principal driven: aligning needs with goals, creating a positive work environment, and addressing student discipline and safety. These essential conditions, in turn, set the stage for implementing specific strategies to improve teaching and learning: developing teachers internally, creating small learning communities, targeting student sub-populations, and using data to inform instruction. The report also describes several ongoing challenges faced by all the schools. Finally, it draws on the study's findings to make recommendations for improving the effectiveness of middle schools here in New York City and around the country. The study is part of an ongoing focus on the middle grades for the Research Alliance.

February 2012

Geographic Focus: North America-United States (Northeastern)-New York-New York County-New York City

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