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School Turnaround Through Scaffolded Craftsmanship


by Charles L. Thompson, Gary Henry & Courtney Preston — 2016

Between 2006 and 2010, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction intervened in 128 low-performing schools, combining approaches consistent with school restructuring and transformation. In improved schools, local educators reconstructed key school functions, a distinctly nonlinear process more like the work of skilled craftsmen than that of design engineers that we refer to as “scaffolded craftsmanship.” We interviewed key stakeholders in 12 high schools to learn about the dynamics accounting for the improvement or stalemate at each school. In sum, in the improved schools we studied, the turnaround process was not a matter of initial external design and subsequent implementation, but a non-linear process of planning, inventing, adjusting, and re-planning as well as a process of learning, doing, and learning from doing. The improvement generally began with the installation of new leadership and involved four main components: new commitment, climate, and culture; improved knowledge and skills; strategically organized and managed structures and supports for instruction; and strengthened external support. Our findings suggest that judicious personnel replacement followed by professional development and coaching targeted to key functions may be a more effective method for implementing school turnaround than the structural approaches promoted via NCLB sanctions and Race to the Top.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 13, 2016, p. 1-26
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 20554, Date Accessed: 12/13/2017 12:40:44 AM

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About the Author
  • Charles Thompson
    East Carolina University
    E-mail Author
    CHARLES L. THOMPSON retired in 2013 after serving as Director of the Teacher Quality Research at the Carolina Institute for Public Policy and Research Professor in the Department of Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Gary Henry
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    GARY T. HENRY holds the Patricia and H. Rodes Hart Chair and serves as Professor of Public Policy and Education in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organization, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. Professor Henry’s research focuses on teacher quality, teacher preparation, school reform, quantitative research methods, and educational evaluation and has recently published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Journal of Teacher Education, Education Finance, and Policy and Science.
  • Courtney Preston
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    COURTNEY PRESTON is an Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies at Florida State University. Dr. Preston research focuses on policies and practices to improve school personnel effectiveness, including teacher quality, teacher preparation, and educator labor markets. Her research has recently appeared in Teachers College Record, Economics of Education Review, and Educational Management, Administration, and Leadership.
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