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Turnaround Rules Provoke Districts' Ire

School administrators in Lincoln, Neb., minced no words recently when talking about the rules in the Title I School Improvement Grants that require moving a principal who has been in place.

The city's Elliott Elementary is expected to be listed as one of the schools in the bottom 5 percent of performance in the state, making it eligible for the funding. But to take it, the district has to move the school's principal of 17 years, De Ann Currin.

And Marilyn Moore, the district's associate superintendent, told the Lincoln Journal Star she found that to be "repugnant" and "horrifying."

If a principal is ineffective, Moore said, he or she should be replaced. "But there is no one in the federal government that knows what kind of leadership De Ann Currin is providing, and there's lots of people in Lincoln, Nebraska, that do," she said.

Moore isn't alone in her displeasure for the rules. As I wrote a few weeks ago, urban superintendents were pushing back on U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, saying two years is not enough time to turn around a school that has been persistently underperforming.

In Marshalltown, Iowa, a middle school principal retired from his school of 20 years after it was listed as one of the state's lowest-performing, but the superintendent, Marvin Wade, said he felt the rules unfairly placed blame on school leaders.

And the San Fransisco Chronicle took a look at five schools where the principals would have to decide either to leave, or cause their schools to lose out on the federal money.

"Those are some very difficult decisions we have to make," Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza told the Chronicle. "We're not inclined to remove principals wholesale just because we're chasing the money."

Duncan, meanwhile, has argued that during the Bush administration, most states and school districts used the flexibility in sanctions to do little, if anything, to improve some of the nation's worst-performing schools. Many of these schools, Duncan has said, have not been "failing" for just a few years under No Child Left Behind, but for a whole generation.

He and others are arguing that aggressive action is need to improve the educational fortunes of students in those schools faster and, in the most serious of cases, that the school should be closed.

"I want us to move on a sense of urgency," Duncan said last month while meeting with the Council of the Great City Schools.

We will have much, much more on school turnarounds from the local and state perspective soon, in a story by my colleague Lesli Maxwell. I'll be sure to link it for you when it's published.

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