Does U.S. School Reform Need to Be Reformed?

BY Kelly Chen  October 5, 2012 at 10:47 AM EST

The Obama Administration’s effort to turn around failing schools under the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program is in need of drastic reform, says a new report by the National Education Policy Center.

The report argues that the SIG program forces schools to “run like corporations” by emphasizing student test scores to demonstrate improvement.

Since 2009, school districts have been able to tap into $3 billion of SIG funds to aggressively and rapidly overhaul underachieving schools by following one of four intervention models:

  • Turnaround: The principal and at least half of the school’s staff are replaced.
  • Restart: The school closes and reopens as a charter school.
  • School Closure: The school shuts down and students are transferred to a better achieving school.
  • Transformation: Under leadership of a new principal, schools focus on teacher development, job training and community-based engagement.

The authors of the brief, Tina Trujillo of the University of California-Berkeley and Michelle Renée of Brown University, argue that the “SIG program treats our lowest-performing schools as corporations and fails to engage educators and families in the most racially and socio-economically segregated communities.”

At an event at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan defended the program, citing that many schools under the SIG program have made great improvements, especially when it comes to gains in reading and math.

Lessons from Successful ‘Turnaround’ Schools?

Earlier this year, we profiled one such turnaround school in Clark County, Nev., where half of all high school students fail to graduate on time.

As a turnaround school, Chaparral High School let go of 50 percent of its staff and brought in a new principal. They went even further by participating in a citywide campaign called “Reclaim Your Future” in which the principal and superintendent went door-to-door encouraging dropouts to come back to class.

Watch the report:

Video filmed and produced by Mike Fritz and April Brown

Share Your Insights

The NewsHour and the Southern Education Desk want to hear from you: parents, teachers, principals, community members. Your answers may be used to inform future reporting on this issue.

Are there characteristics that are common to all turnaround schools? And can other schools use them as a model for achieving their own success? What are the elements needed to turn a school around? How important is strong leadership? What role do parents play and how vital is the role of the entire community in making turnaround schools possible?

Share your experiences by answering a few questions below or here:

American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to address the dropout crisis.