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How to Exit Restructuring: Lessons From 23 School Districts

As educators labor to develop new or revamped strategies to "turn around" their most troubled schools, they may want to heed some lessons from six states and 23 school districts that went through "restructuring" under No Child Left Behind. Researchers at the Center on Education Policy lay it all out in a new report they released this morning. There's also a big confab today in Washington that caps the center's five-year-long examination.

There's a lot of good detail, so be sure to dig into the full report. For now, though, some highlights:

First, no single strategy propelled any of the troubled schools in the study out of restructuring status. In other words, it wasn't enough to just replace weak teachers or adopt a comprehensive school reform model.

Second, how often schools used data mattered. While all of the schools that CEP examined said data was a key part of their improvement strategy, the schools that actually exited restructuring status used it more frequently. Teachers at all but one of the schools that had improved said they analyzed data at least ONCE each month to make decisions about regrouping students by skill level.

Third, a wholesale replacement of the adults in the building was not the answer.(This will be music to the ears of teachers' unions and the folks who believe in the "transformation" approach to school turnarounds). Of all the schools that CEP examined, only one of them in the group that exited restructuring used staff replacement as its main improvement strategy. The others did get rid of some staff members, but only as one piece of a broader tactic. And the schools that were able to find talented replacements were all located in markets where enrollment was stable, or even declining, and where there weren't teacher shortages. Another essential ingredient: a local teachers' union that had granted schools and districts some flexibility around hiring and firing.

By the way, the six states where CEP studied schools were California, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New York, and Ohio. And the districts and schools CEP examined were, refreshingly, mostly those that don't dominate the national education reform conversation. Among them: Oakland, Calif., Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Flint, Mich., and Syracuse, N.Y.

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