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Want Turnaround Money? Involve Parents, Duncan Proposes

After getting pushback from local education advocates who have been feeling left out of the school turnaround process, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced today that districts will be required to involve parents and the community as a condition of receiving school improvement grants.

In a speech to the NAACP in Kansas City, Mo., Duncan said he would change the administration's ESEA draft to acknowledge the key role that communities play in turning around persistently failing schools. Even members of Congress have been critical of the lack of community involvement in the Education Department's four required models that are attached to $4 billion in SIG funding.

According to prepared remarks, Duncan said:

"You also made it crystal clear to us in recent meetings at the department and at the White House that the community must be at the table when decisions are made around how to improve struggling schools. And we agree.

So, today, I'm announcing that—based on your input and the very productive engagement we have had around the school improvement grant program—we will revise our ESEA reauthorization proposal to require parent and community input.

That means notification, outreach, public input, and honest, open discussion about the right option for each community. This is really common sense, and most superintendents understand this. But we also know this is very hard work, and it's a challenge to build consensus around these very tough interventions."

Duncan's speech didn't provide any details on how such a requirement would play out logistically, or practically. Already, the popular "transformation" model requires districts to "provide ongoing mechanisms for family and community engagement." The new plan would extend this requirement to all models, and leave many of the details on how exactly to obtain such engagement or input to local districts. The administration's goal is not to give parents and the community veto power over any particular turnaround model a district chooses, according to sources, but to involve them in the process as a school goes through its improvement steps.

Still, this is pretty vague language, so it will be interesting to monitor just how much punch this proposal carries, or if it makes the four turnaround models any more palatable to critics.

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