Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘turnaround’

NY Times Misconstrues School Turnaround

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Joyce Irvine was removed as principal. Michael Winerip blames the government.

On Sunday, Michael Winerip wrote an article about the travesty that the federal government could cause a good principal to be removed because of the way schools are measured. I read this article and was dismayed by how Winerip could completely get the facts wrong. Now, I’m not talking about little facts here. I’m talking about the very premise of the article. He claims that the principal was taken from her post, because it was the easiest path for the district in its turnaround effort, despite them seeing her as extremely capable. This is completely absurd. Schools fail to make AYP all the time and have to consider one of the five restructuring options. Usually, they pick the fifth:

    (v) Any other major restructuring of the school’s governance arrangement that makes fundamental reforms, such as significant changes in the school’s staffing and governance, to improve student academic achievement in the school and that has substantial promise of enabling the school to make adequate yearly progress as defined in the State plan under section 1111(b)(2).

As you can tell, the wording of this subsection is extremely vague. The district can do “any other major restructuring…that makes fundamental reforms.” Essentially, as long as they call it major, they can do it. Many schools hire consulting firms or add computer math programs – pretty much anything not to have to fire large numbers of teachers and staff members. I’m not sure how Winerip justifies excluding this possibility in his article, other than trying to sell newspapers.

Alexander Russo suggests a few more things that the article got wrong. First, getting rid of a principal is the exception and not the rule in cases of school turnaround. Second, the principal in question wasn’t even laid off. She was moved to a role overseeing principals in the central office – hardly “removing” her. Finally, the story makes it sound like the school was rated so low because of recent immigrants, but test scores for those who have entered the district within the past year do not count. These are all good points, but they seem to be lightly hitting the problems with the article without delving into the meat. Andrew Rotterham at Eduwonk points out one fact that completely changes the story, though. Not only has the school had poor scores, but it has actually been moving backwards! Rotterham completely dismantles Winerip, questioning his history of leaving out the facts.

It’s easy to try to blame the big bad government for ruining the life of the small guy, but it’s never as clear cut as that.

UPDATE: It looks like I was basing my assessment on the old models of turnaround. See the comments below to find out what I got wrong and why the district still had other options.


My Edcrush on Michelle Rhee: Lessons from the DCPS Chancellor

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2010 at 3:01 pm

This morning, I participated in a virtual town hall with Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of Washington, DC Public Schools (DCPS). I was so wrapped up in what she was saying that I forgot to take notes, so I have to write this all now before I forget. The town hall’s official topic was the role of principals in transformation, something that sounds strongly in line with Teach For America’s ideals (Rhee was a Baltimore corps member), and indeed, Ms. Rhee seemed to be the embodiment of what Teach For America espouses. She was very upfront about her focus on doing what is best for student achievement, whether or not people like her. Being “warm and fuzzy” is not in the best interest of the students, so that’s not who she is. One example of an controversial move she made was when she shut down 23 schools and fired 36 principals in her first year. Not a popular action by any standards. However, she pointed out that by shuttering those schools, she was able to supply every single school with resources that not every school had had in the past. She was able to make sure all children got access to an art teacher, a PE teacher, a librarian – things many of us take for granted in our educations.

This is Chancellor Rhee with her Youth Cabinet. The photo is from the Chancellor's Corner section of the DCPS website.'s+Corner

Rhee’s changes have not come without results. She mentioned that this past year, DC had the biggest growth on a national test of any state or city in the country. While they are not at the absolute top in terms of performance, they have made the biggest strides of any district. This is especially impressive given that this is only Rhee’s 3rd year as chancellor. But enough about  Ms. Rhee herself. The real purpose of blogging this is to tell a little about what she said were important lessons to learn about the necessity of principals. Since this was a town hall, I’ll format this into questions that were asked of her and answers she gave. Again, these are not word for word, since I don’t have a transcript, so don’t quote it.

Q: Can school turnarounds happen without principals having complete control of hiring and firing?

A: Obviously, there are lots of factors that go into what makes a school strong. However, if a school is doing poorly enough to need a turnaround, it means they need to make big changes. Aside from whether or not the school is filled with “bad” teachers, a principal needs to be able to have control of their team. He or she needs to have the ability to make decisions and have people who will comply. In most cases, control of the staffing is one of the most essential functions a principal can have to make major changes.

Q: What is the first thing a new principal needs to do with their school?

A: That depends on the state of the school. If the school is already at least moderately performing, then the number one thing is to examine teacher practices and see what improvements can be made. If the school is performing poorly, teacher practices are obviously something that need to be changed, but first, there needs to be a culture change. There needs to be a positive environment before any of the smaller changes can happen.

Q: What about parents and the community? Can a successful turnaround happen without them?

A: While parental involvement is helpful, DCPS has shown in the last few years that we can make changes in schools and have positive results. We have the same families in our city that we did before. As a chancellor, it is my job to make sure the schools are doing their jobs right. We have created a district where principals and teachers want to be and that’s the difference.

Q: Why has DCPS been so successful?

A: We have a unique situation here in Washington, DC. We don’t have a school board. We don’t have a lot of channels that decisions have to go through. If I want to make a change, I ask Mayor Fenty, he gives me the thumbs up, and it’s in place. It’s that easy. We can make improvements right away without having to wait.

Q: Do you have success because of strong development for principals?

A: If you want to learn how to be a successful principal through professional development, DC is not the place for you to be. Right now, we don’t have much in the way of development for our principals. It’s not that I don’t want to have any; we just don’t have it in place yet. We’re still in startup mode. I want DC to eventually be a place where principals can leave and be ready to be superintendents. The reason our principals do well is that I have hired people who are all smarter than me. They know what they’re doing and if they do something wrong, they are smart enough to learn from it.