DoTheRightThingForKids.orgThe term “turn­around” is often used to describe the need to sig­nif­i­cant­ly improve the per­for­mance of the chron­i­cal­ly under­per­form­ing Kansas City, Missouri Public Schools (KCPS). Hiring new super­in­ten­dents, import­ing expen­sive edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams from pub­lish­ers, expand­ing the use of com­put­ers, rear­rang­ing mid­dle school grade lev­els, and oth­er “sil­ver bul­let” short­cuts have had mar­gin­al impact on true stu­dent achieve­ment; they have not turned the sys­tem around. What does it take to rein­vent a school sys­tem so that it sheds the old cul­ture and oper­a­tions that have held it back and moves in new, more pro­duc­tive direc­tions? Jobs, roles, long-stand­ing ways of doing things often have to be giv­en up. The expe­ri­ence in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a sys­tem rough­ly the size of KCPS, pro­vides a cur­rent exam­ple and points out some avenues for change.

The Lawrence, Massachusetts school sys­tem was one of the most chron­i­cal­ly poor­ly per­form­ing dis­tricts in the state on math, read­ing, grad­u­a­tion rates and oth­er mea­sures. Under a new state law, the dis­trict was put into receiver­ship in 2011. A state-appoint­ed receiv­er, a lead­ing Massachusetts edu­ca­tor, replaced the board and the super­in­ten­dent for 3 years (now extend­ed to 6 years) and was giv­en author­i­ty to make sig­nif­i­cant changes in struc­ture, per­son­nel poli­cies, length of school day and oth­er areas. The turn­around plan con­tains dozens of major reforms. Among those are:

  • Shifting of author­i­ty from the cen­tral office to schools, with com­men­su­rate account­abil­i­ty based on a school’s abil­i­ty to demon­strate per­for­mance
  • Replacement of inef­fec­tive teach­ers and prin­ci­pals based on per­for­mance eval­u­a­tion
  • Longer school days in grades 1 through 8 and longer school years for 9th graders
  • Partnerships with out­side edu­ca­tion­al con­sul­tants

The receiv­er cut the cen­tral office staff by one-third, brought in char­ter school oper­a­tors to take over some of the most poor­ly per­form­ing schools, encour­aged schools to devel­op their own unique pro­grams based on stu­dents’ needs, and engaged par­ents’ help with the schools.

The plan encour­ages con­tin­u­ous improve­ment by build­ing a cul­ture of high expec­ta­tions. There are many more aspects. It is a “dif­fer­ent mod­el” in the words of the receiv­er, not busi­ness as usu­al. There are, of course, stress­es as there are in any major change effort, includ­ing union rela­tions.

After two years (this year’s data are not in) eval­u­a­tors and the state are encour­aged by the progress of the Lawrence dis­trict. Graduation rates are up and dropouts are down; test scores in math and lan­guage are up.
Everyone agrees that there is plen­ty more work to do, but there is a clear direc­tion.

Sources: WBUR, Boston’s NPR Station (3/12/14); The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune (6/8/15); The New York Times (6/7/15)

Tagged with:  
Share →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *