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Turnaround Bill Would Give Congress' Stamp of Approval to SIG

The administration's four school improvement models would stay pretty much intact—with some important tweaks—under a measure introduced last week by Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.

Hagan, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has been helping to chart a moderate Democratic course on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And her own state is home to the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school district, which is seen as a national leader in school turnaround, arguably the trickiest area of education policy.

The four models outlined in regulations finalized by the administration back in late 2009 include some pretty dramatic options such as closing a school entirely, or reopening it with a charter or education management organization.

Districts can also use the "turnaround" model, which calls for removing half the staff and implementing a new curriculum and governance structure. They can also use the "transformational model", which calls for putting in place intensive professional development, extending learning time, and a new evaluation system, among other changes. In pretty much every case, the principal is supposed to be removed, unless that principal has been on the job three years or less.

Hagan's bill would, in effect, retain those same models, with some modifications. For instance, right now, schools in transformation must extend learning time, but the regulations don't really specifiy what that means. Schools could just rejigger their schedules and not actually add minutes to the school day. But under the bill, schools would have to add at least 300 hours of learning time, over the course of an academic year. That could be done in partnership with non-profits.

Also, under the bill, principals would be ousted if they have been on the job more than two years, not more than three years. That's a tighter restriction.

The bill would also encourage districts' and states' capacity for school turnaround, such as by creating a state turnaround office. It would also call for beefed-up parental involvement and community engagement. And it would encourage information-sharing on the best ways to fix low-performing rural schools, which often have trouble attracting staff and leaders.

Love 'em or hate 'em, the four models orginally outlined in regulations for the School Improvement Grant program totally changed the federal role in intervening in low-performing schools.

Before the administraiton spelled out the models, states had pretty much chosen to do ... not much of anything for their lowest-performing schools. Still, the four models have faced major political pushback from folks who say they are restrictive.

It sounds like the administration is really hoping Congress keeps the models intact during the reauthorization process.

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