A report from the Aspen Institute promoted their recent efforts at improving the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The strategy was simple: take proven principals and place them in under-performing schools with enough autonomy to make changes necessary for turning them around. This included being able to take five teachers, an assistant principal, a literacy specialist, and a behavior management technician (sounds like a repairman for malfunctioning brains).
While I think there are some positive aspects to their “Strategic Staffing Initiative,” I have a hard time seeing it as a long-term solution. First of all, because of all of the politics, no one gets fired. Any teachers the new principal doesn’t want get reassigned to another school in the district. CMS and the Education Resource Strategies (ERS) people at the Aspen Institute seem pleased with only spending $175k for the new schools to be turned around (that’s the total in bonuses they offered the principals and teachers to move to the under-performers and doesn’t include all the resources spent by the outside organizations and consultants). The numbers look pretty good, too. The schools with new teachers and principals had an average rise of over 5% in their students reading scores and almost 10% in math in just the first year. But what about the schools with people reassigned to them? If the difference is in leadership and teachers, doesn’t that correlate with lower achievement in the schools that the under-performers went to? Making the best use of your resources means knowing when to dump the extra weight, rather than wasting gas to take them along. If specific people are identified as weak links, they need to be removed from the chain, not moved to a different part of it. The report also pointed out the fact that eventually, there won’t be principals that are strong enough to move to the worse schools, so it can’t work indefinitely.
All in all, the report seems to be glowing about the schools that needed improvement, but the whole point was to improve the district and there is nothing mentioned in aggregate data or anything about the schools the lame ducks went to. You have to wonder if the improvements in these schools were offset by the backwards motion of the other schools.