Monday, March 8, 2010

Everything old is new again: turnaround edition.

Now that turnaround is the concept of the moment, we need to investigate what it yielded in the olden days when it was called “restructuring.” Last week I suggested journalists keep in context that zero-based staffing, as whole-school firings (or reassignments) are called, is not new. Now we should take the analysis much further. What has gone on at the dozens (hundreds?) of schools that have been zero-based in the last five years or more? Telling readers what has happened to test scores and graduation rates is not enough. I want to know how many of the teachers were hired back, and where did the rest go? Where did the new teachers come from? How were the teachers in the reconstituted schools trained to do better? What other changes were made besides staffing? New curriculum, new discipline rules, new interventions, new culture ... what? And how might the new RtTT-sparked turnarounds differ from the ones that came before?

The Center on Education Policy has studied restructuring and offers some perspective on the staffing question, generally concluding that replacing staff has some benefit mitigated in part by issues such as the time it takes to hire and the lack of a good pool to draw from. They point out that staff changes are usually one reform among several. Their analyses are limited to certain states and there is much more to be done, especially by on-the-ground reporters who can show some case studies. It is rare that a huge policy shift is paired with nearly a decade of lessons to draw from. In this case, I am not sure we have much idea what those lessons are.


  1. Interesting questions Linda. My "opinion" on the Central Falls thing is that the Supt is using the "nuclear option" to force the union to completely back off its position of wanting $90 per hour for the extra duty work and pushing back against some other reforms that they had previously (at least in principle) agreed to.

    Catch Frances Gallo's talk to the RISC event on YouTube. Impressive lady.

  2. The firing of the Central Falls HS RI teachers shows a peculiar "mean streak" in Obama education policy.

    NYU historian Diane Ravitch has roundly condemned the move and Jay Mathews (Class Struggle, Washington Post) found it gross "overkill." It's also one of the very few educational issues to ever make the news here in Canada.

    It is an outrage. Surely schools don't have to be destroyed to be saved.

  3. Respectfully educhatter ... the ability to fire the whole staff in a failing school is from a leftover component of NCLB which was a Bush policy. That is not to say however that its not an approach Obama wouldn't favor, clearly he has.

    I give kudos to the Supt here. She had a big hammer and when the union called her bluff ... she used it. I still maintain that it was a ploy to get them back to the table, which it certainly did.

  4. Newspapers and newsmagazines have been losing circulation and revenue for some years. And while they're part of the private sector, the free press is still an integral part of our democracy, so the public has a strong interest in their survival.

    So shouldn't the struggling newspapers and newsmagazines (which as I understand it is all of them, industrywide) also be firing their entire staffs, since so many editorial writers and commentators think it's a fine solution for struggling schools?

  5. Jason Glass,

    If she's using the nuclear option to force the union on wages, isn't that illegal? Maybe thats why she returned to the table.

    But here's the question. If it is illegal, would you still support her?

  6. I don't believe its illegal. When the state of Rhode Island took the federal money associated with NCLB they also took on the federal laws related to this matter. If this were most schools in RI I expect it would be illegal. However, because the state designated it as a failing school under NCLB, that granted the state and the district specific options for turning the school around. One of those options was this "nuclear" one which was used.

    I am not an attorney, but I do work closely with them in my HR role. I certainly would have had all the legal components of this lined up before I pulled the trigger on something this big. The supt here seems like a smart lady. I can't imagine she'd be any different.

    But to answer your question more directly John Thompson, if it were illegal then no I would not support the decision.

  7. And to Caroline - certainly in the scenario you presented it would be unfair to hold the newspaper writers soley accountable in that situation.

    However if I ran a newspaper and I had a staff that refused to make the move to online and electronic formats, and wanted more money to do something different when the organization was failing ... I think I would fire them.

    Since we are on hypothetical scenarios, I believe the one I presented in the previous paragraphy is closer to what actually happenned in R.I.