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States: Overhauling Staff Policies Is Toughest Work in 'Turnaround' Schools

Cross-posted from the Politics K-12 blog

By Alyson Klein

new federal report confirms what many district and state level officials already know well: Turning around low-performing schools, a key requirement of both the School Improvement Grant program and the Obama administration's marquee Race to the Top program, is really important—and really, really hard.

More than 80 percent of states have made fixing their lowest-performing schools a high priority, but at least 50 percent have said the work is "very difficult," says the report released Tuesday by the Institute of Education Sciences, the U.S. Department of Education's research arm. The report was the result of a collaboration of the American Institutes for Research and Mathematica Policy Research. The data came from administrators in 49 states and the District of Columbia, in a survey conducted in the spring of 2012 and spring of 2013.

The researchers also found that, in 2012, a total of 38 states reported significant gaps in their expertise when it came to school turnarounds. And that number didn't improve the next year. In fact, it got a little worse, with 40 states reporting big gaps in 2013.

And the toughest tasks had everything to do with school staff. In 2012, a total of 21 states said they needed more expertise in developing teacher evaluation systems that took student growth into account, the same number as in 2013. By 2013, more than half the states in the survey identified recruiting and retaining qualified staff to work in turnaround schools as an area in which there were significant knowledge gaps. See more below.

Thumbnail image for SIG report snip 1.PNG

What's more, between 2012 and 2013 states slightly decreased their use of "intermediaries" to help in turnarounds, which included outside experts such as federally supported labs, institutions of higher education, distinguished educators, other external organizations (like consultants), and regional or county offices. See more below.

second chart SIG.PNG

And, after Race to the Top and SIG, states were more likely to have some sort of "internal structure" (such as an office of school turnaround, or regular monitoring of low-performing schools). Forty-six states reported having some sort of organizational or administrative structure to support turnarounds in the 2012-13 school year, which makes 21 more states than in the 2007-08 school year, when Race to the Top and the Obama administration's new, supersized version of SIG hadn't yet appeared on the scene. 

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