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Three Year Turnaround Timetable Unrealistic, Underscores Inherent Flaws in “Reform”

July 19, 2016

An article by Kate Taylor in today’s NYTimes explicitly emphasized the fantastical notion that “failing schools” can be “turned around” in three years and implicitly highlighted the flaws in the “reformer’s” notion that grading schools will help school improvement.

The notion that a “failing school” can miraculously change in three years is rebutted by Megan Hester, a principal associate at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, an organization that is working closely with community organizations involved in the turnaround effort. She said,

“There’s no school improvement initiative in the country that shows long-term success that showed improvement within two or three years.”

Giving schools the time they might need… “is at odds with the political cycle and the political attention span.”

But politics is everything in NYC schools and since mayors are elected every four years and it took Mr. de Blasio a year to get his leadership team in place he needed to set a three year timetable. In my judgment, the mayor missed a teachable moment and picked the wrong battle at the outset. In his first months in office he could have taken on the wrongheaded idea that labelling schools as “failing” based on test scores when the effects of poverty account for nearly all the variance in those scores. He could have emphasized that when a school is labelled as “failing” it is difficult to recruit students and even more difficult to recruit teachers. And while the article points out these realities, it does not explicitly link the realities to the flawed idea of classifying the schools as “failing”, an idea the “reformers” love because it enables them to close the schools and replace them with for-profit charters that repackage the schools, draw engaged parents and hire new teachers, but make no difference whatsoever when it comes to test scores or graduation rates.

Improving schools and addressing the effects of poverty takes time and requires more resources. That combination is a poison pill for politicians… but it is the only medicine that will cure the ills of public education in urban areas. Until a politician is willing to explain this to voters and voters are willing to listen the vicious cycle of “failing” schools for children raised in poverty will continue.

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