Editor’s Note: The failure of school ‘turnarounds’

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

A paper released this month examines the school turnaround measures Michigan put in place five years ago to get a waiver from the unrealistic requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The results are lackluster. In fact, the two researchers found the accountability systems have zero positive impact.

Brian Jacob, a professor of economics and education policy at the University of Michigan, along with Steven Hemelt at the University of North Carolina, published their working paper through the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In lieu of No Child’s strict student proficiency targets, Michigan’s waiver laid out ways the state would handle under-performing schools. It put together lists of “priority” schools, which were in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state and “focus” schools, which had high achievement gaps between student groups.

Yet the strategies implemented to help these struggling schools didn’t work, and the blame should fall to individual school leaders and lack of state oversight.

“Overall, we find that neither reform had appreciable impacts on various measures of school staffing, student composition, or academic achievement,” the authors state.

They did find some small reductions in the math achievement gap, but that wasn’t a win for students as the lower-performing groups remained stagnant while higher-achieving students did less well.

As the professors note, their findings are a “cautionary tale” as states are now submitting accountability plans to comply with the revised federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The findings are similar to a government report out earlier this year that analyzed the school improvement grants used by the Obama administration. That $7 billion spent was a waste.

Now that state Superintendent Brian Whiston has intervened in 38 of Michigan’s worst schools, he should make sure his new partnership model isn’t repeating old mistakes.