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Irrational Exuberance for Market-based Reform: How Federal Turnaround Policies Thwart Democratic Schooling


by Tina Trujillo & Michelle Renée - 2015

Background: In 2009, the Obama Administration announced its intention to rapidly “turn around” 5,000 of the nation’s lowest-performing schools. To do so, it relied on the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program to provide temporary funding for states and schools, and to mandate drastic, school-level reforms. Most of these reforms require massive administrative and teacher layoffs, especially under the “turnaround option.”

In the public debate about the SIG program, reforms such as turnarounds have been described as new and innovative. In reality, the nation has significant experience with them, particularly over the past 40 years. Turnaround-style reforms are not only based on unwarranted claims; they ignore contrary research evidence about the potential of mass firings to improve organizational performance.

Purpose: This paper considers the tensions with democratic education inherent in the federal SIG program’s market-based school reforms. It examines the evolution of and intent behind the 2009 federal SIG program. From there, it considers the lessons of forty years of research on educational effectiveness and high-stakes accountability. It builds on this evidence, as well as the growing literature on communities’ engagement in reform, in its analysis of the school turnaround research and practice. The paper culminates in a set of recommendations that are intended to re-center the purposes of public education for low-income students, students of color, and local communities in developing more equitable, democratic school turnarounds.

Research Design: This article synthesizes forty years of research on school and district effectiveness, high-stakes accountability, and community engagement in school reform to evaluate the federal School Improvement Grant program’s potential to cultivate democratic, equitable public schools. It also reviews the small, but rapidly growing literature on school turnarounds, paying particular attention to the ways in which this new field reproduces or departs from earlier literature that examined reform models that are analogous to the current SIG-funded school turnarounds.

Conclusions: Based on the provisional lessons that are emerging from current SIG-inspired turnarounds, from research on earlier efforts to improve school and district effectiveness, and from pockets of promising community-based practices that are developing at local and national levels, we propose five steps that federal, state, and local policymakers can take toward fostering more equitable, democratic turnaround processes. First, increase current federal and state spending for public education, particularly as it is allocated for more democratic turnarounds. Second, focus turnaround policies on improving the quality of teaching and learning rather than on technical-structural changes. Third, engage a broad cross-section of schools’ communities—teachers, students, parents, and community organizations—in planning and implementing turnaround strategies that are tailored to each school and district context. Fourth, incorporate multiple indicators of effectiveness—apart from test scores—that reflect the range of purposes for schools. Fifth, support ongoing, systematic research, evaluation, and dissemination examining all aspects of turnaround processes in schools and districts.



In 1996, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan cautioned black-tie dinner attendees at the American Enterprise Institute that an irrational exuberance for the market might have unduly escalated stock prices. The results, he warned, could pose major challenges to cultivating a democratic society. Greenspan’s prescience was soon evident: A major recession ensued almost immediately. Americans were overly confident about the power of the market in a democracy. Yet nearly two decades later, many seem to have not learned their lesson. Unswerving faith in market-based mechanisms to remedy low performance across both private and public sectors seems to have reached an all-time high. This irrational exuberance1 is particularly evident in education, where federal policies have increasingly assumed a market-oriented character, despite a long line of research that reveal the faulty and contrary evidence upon which they are based.

The current federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program’s “turnaround" policy provides a case in point.2 In 2009, the Obama Administration announced its intention to rapidly “turn around” 5,000 of the nation’s lowest-performing schools. To do so, it relied on the SIG program to provide temporary funding for states and schools and to mandate drastic, school-level reforms. Most of these reforms require massive administrative and teacher layoffs, especially under the “turnaround option.” This technique derives directly from the private sector.

In the public debate about the SIG program, reforms such as turnarounds have been described as new and innovative. In reality, the nation has significant experience with them, particularly over the past 40 years. Turnaround-style reforms are not only based on unwarranted claims; they ignore contrary research evidence about the potential of mass firings to improve organizational performance. The most erroneous claim is that these corporate-based models can yield transformative results. The second most prominent claim is the assumption that the drastic reconstitution of school staff will prove beneficial. Neither claim is supported by research.

To try to marshal support for these policy claims, a collection of writing on school turnarounds is rapidly being generated (e.g., Murphy & Meyers, 2007; Zavadsky, 2012). This literature resembles the educational-effectiveness research of the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. It repeats several of the methodological errors of the earlier studies, particularly in its narrow reliance on standardized test scores as the main measure of school success. It focuses almost exclusively on within-school factors to account for student outcomes. And, accordingly, it is virtually silent on the pervasive effects of contextual factors, like poverty, race, and systemic funding disparities, which have enormous effects on student achievement. The guiding assumption in this literature is that schools have the capability to overcome these contextual factors. Thus, punitive sanctions are justified.

At its core, the SIG policy is an extension of the market-based approach to education under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Trujillo, 2012). The policy assumes that schools behave in the same way as private corporations are envisioned to behave when subjected to competition, monitoring, and rigid accountability.

In this way the SIG policy is at odds with a democratic approach to public education, which treats schooling as a public good (Meens & Howe, this issue; Rose, 2014), for democratic purposes of schooling are broader than industry-driven ones (Dewey, 1916). The democratic approach creates opportunities for local communities to publicly deliberate and self-govern (Marsh, 2007; Meens & Howe, this issue; Trujillo, 2013a). Its goal is to provide all students with equitable opportunities to learn, participate in society, and further social change (Orr & Rogers, 2011). The federal government failed to engage those most affected by turnaround reforms—educators and families in the most racially and socioeconomically segregated communities—in developing and carrying out the SIG program.

This paper considers the tensions with democratic education inherent in the federal SIG policy’s market-based school reforms. It examines the evolution of and intent behind the 2009 federal SIG program. From there, it considers the lessons of 40 years of research on educational effectiveness and reform. It builds on this evidence, as well as the growing literature on communities’ engagement in reform, in its analysis of the school turnaround research and practice. The paper culminates in a set of recommendations that are intended to recenter the purposes of public education for low-income students, students of color, and local communities in developing more equitable, democratic school turnarounds.


THE FEDERAL ALPHABET SOUP: NCLB, ESEA, ARRA, AND SIG


The federal School Improvement Grant program was created in 2002 as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). One primary goal of NCLB was for states to identify their lowest-performing schools so that students could transfer out of such schools into higher performing ones. Another goal, seen in the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program legislation, was to provide support to systemically improve those lowest-performing schools. The legislation required schools identified as low-performing for two or more years to create a plan for increasing achievement. These schools had to include at least one of the following corrective actions: replace school staff responsible for the failure to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP); implement a research-based curriculum and a professional development program to improve student achievement; decrease school-level management authority; appoint an outside expert; extend the school year or school day; change the school’s internal organizational structure; propose other similar interventions. NCLB’s authors created the SIG program to provide financial support for the development and implementation of these corrective actions. Yet, while the policy was on the books from 2002, the SIG program was not funded until 2007 (Government Accounting Office, 2011).

In 2009, the SIG program was transformed in size and scope by the passage of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The SIG budget increased from $125 million in 2007 to $3.5 billion in the 2010–2011 school year. After this one-time ARRA infusion of funding, the SIG program was funded at $546 million for the 2011–2012 school year, and $535 million for the 2012–2013 school year (U.S. Department of Education, 2011). The administration’s explanation for reinventing the SIG program was that dramatically turning around schools requires financial investment alongside significant structural changes. Currently, each SIG school can receive up to $2 million per year for three years. For impoverished schools already struggling to meet students’ needs during local and state fiscal crises, the amount of money is significant. However, under the SIG program grant recipients revert to their original funding levels after the three-year federal commitment expires. In this way, the one-time spending increase does not fundamentally alter basic federal spending structures—structures whose inequitable, inadequate distribution across lines of poverty and race have been well documented (Oakes, 2002). Along with the infusion of money came a mandate to prioritize the bottom 5% of each state’s schools and to adopt one of four prescriptive federal models of school improvement (U.S. Department of Education, 2009).

At the same time, like most federal policy, the SIG program was developed by policy elites—U.S. Department of Education officials, philanthropy and think tank leaders, and others education leaders with access to federal decision makers. Those most impacted by the reform—students and parents in the nation’s most racially and socioeconomically segregated communities—were not engaged in developing the details of the SIG policy. As the SIG program has rolled out, some communities have organized collectively to propose strategies that promote more equitable, democratic processes in the SIG policy and its implementation. For example, they suggested prioritizing teaching and learning goals in the school turnarounds, developing turnaround plans in collaboration with educators, parents, students, communities and outside experts, and incorporating wraparound services to address the powerful contextual conditions that are typical of low-performing schools (Communities for Excellent Public Schools, 2013). While some of these recommendations ended up in the Department of Education’s guidance, these community-developed ideas are easily overlooked or dismissed as schools and districts grapple with implementing the drastic staffing and structural changes required by the federal SIG policy.

To determine which schools are eligible for the SIG program, states are instructed to identify their persistently lowest-achieving schools based on schools’ absolute performance on state Language Arts and Math assessments and their lack of test score growth over a period of time. High schools with low graduation rates are also eligible. Federal guidelines specify that states must create three tiers of schools eligible for the SIG program:

Tier 1: the lowest five percent or the lowest five (whichever is larger) Title I schools currently in program improvement, corrective action or restructuring, or Title I high schools with a graduation rate under 60 percent.

Tier 2: the lowest five percent or the lowest five (whichever is larger) schools that are eligible for, but do not receive Title I funds, or any high school that is eligible for but does not receive Title I funds and has a graduation rate under 60 percent.

Tier 3: the remaining Title I schools that are not in program improvement, corrective action or restructuring.

Unfortunately, identifying the bottom 5% of schools can be tricky. States select their assessments, determine how much weight one factor receives over another (absolute test scores or lack of test score progress over time), and decide how to prioritize schools. The list of schools can vary widely based on which measures are used, how those measures are calculated and how accurate the data are in the first place. Thus, the guidelines provide some rules about how to identify SIG-eligible schools, but they leave substantial discretion to each state.

The second major program component is the mandate that SIG-funded schools choose one of four prescribed intervention models (each derived from corporate practices in the private sector): turnaround, transformation, restart, or closure (Strauss, 2011).

Turnaround: The school’s principal and all teachers are fired. The new principal, using newly granted flexibility, can rehire up to 50 percent of the original teachers along with new staff.

Transformation: The school’s principal is fired; a principal and teacher-evaluation system based on student achievement and other measures, as well as rewards and sanctions for principals and teachers, must be developed; strategies for teacher recruitment, retention, and professional development must be implemented; a series of structural and curricular changes must be made.

Restart: The school is converted or closed, then reopened under a charter school operator, charter management organization, or education management organization.

School Closure: The school is closed and its students transferred to higher-achieving schools in the district.

As of 2014, states had granted more than 1,600 schools federal SIG funding. Transformation is the most common model, accounting for around 74% of SIG schools. Turnarounds account for approximately 20%.


SCHOOL TURNAROUND: ANOTHER EDUCATIONAL REFORM FOR AN ECONOMIC CRISIS


In prioritizing the improvement of the nation’s lowest performing schools, the Obama administration sounded Washington’s characteristic call for economic growth by way of educational investments. The decision echoed both the economic crisis debates and the educational policy conversations of the moment (Stuit & Stringfield, 2012). Press releases and speeches from President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan reinforced the oft-heard notion that a subset of the public school system was failing to adequately educate children, thereby squelching America’s economic hopes. In his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama nested the SIG policy in his overall economic recovery plan:

Instead of funding the status quo, we [will] only invest in reform—reform that raises student achievement . . .  and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans . . . In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education. (Obama, 2010)

The message was strong: Strengthening the economy required the federal government to fix the schools at the bottom of the system. Implicit in the message was an assumption about the purposes of schools—to prepare students for the workforce. Yet this economic purpose of schooling does not encompass more democratic aims, which frame education’s goals in terms of civic preparedness, assumptions that all children can learn, and a collective sense of public responsibility for all children (Rose, 2014).


PERSISTENT MARKET-BASED REFORMS: TESTING, SANCTIONS, AND COMPETITION


Many scholars have demonstrated how NCLB and the SIG program are based largely on market-based principles (Apple, 2007b; Hursh, 2007; Lipman, 2004). The idea behind a market theory of public education is that schools can and should behave in the same way as private corporations. From this perspective, principles of competition, performance measurement, monitoring, and accountability for results are assumed to produce more effective, efficient schools. Charter schools, vouchers, sanctions, and the four SIG models are grounded in such market-based principles.

In contrast, a democratic theory of public education asserts that schooling is a public good that requires the participation of diverse constituencies (Gutmann, 1999; Meens & Howe, this issue; Noddings, 2013; Trujillo, 2012, 2013a). From a democratic perspective, public schools are seen as furthering social change by creating opportunities for local communities to equitably share decision making and participate in self-governance. Such participation is presumed to promote collective engagement in local education, as well as a public system whose goal is to provide all students with equitable opportunities to learn and participate in society. This vision for democratic education is presumed to prepare citizens for civic participation (Gutmann, 1999; Noddings, 2013). Full-service community schools, integration, and increasing college preparation and access are all examples of democratic education policies.

The original NCLB requirement for states to identify low-performing schools was grounded in a market-based assumption: the potential loss of money to a persistently low-scoring school as parents use their new NCLB option to transfer students to better schools would provide competitive pressure to compel schools to turn themselves around. SIG grants were seen as a carrot to be added to this stick. Though some students (and the money attached to them) would be gone, the schools would receive some money to try to improve.  While framed as a departure from previous high-stakes accountability policies, the details of the reinvented 2009 SIG program are intimately linked to the NCLB policy framework set in place by the Bush administration (Mathis, 2009). Standardized test scores are still the main means for identifying schools for intervention, and punitive sanctions for underperformance remain central to the federal program.

Indeed, the SIG policy reflects Americans’ irrational exuberance for economistic, market-based ideas. It assumes that strong external threats motivate teachers and principals to improve, that standardized test scores are valid measures of student performance, that meaningful, sustainable changes can be spurred by competition, and that outcome-oriented accountability reforms can effectively interrupt historical patterns of low performance. In other words, the policy assumes that the only barrier to success in the past was a lack of motivation and incentive, and that the best form of motivation and incentive is money. While these market-based policy ideas are not new, the SIG program has increased their prominence in the discourse, research, and practice of turning around low-scoring schools (Trujillo, 2012). In doing so, the program has edged out room for more democratic policy instruments, such as those derived from citizen input, or those that foster values for collective, not just individual interests; skills for civic, not just workforce participation; and commitments to social, not just technocratic change.


REVIEW OF RESEARCH: FROM SCHOOLS TO DISTRICTS TO TURNAROUNDS


IN PURSUIT OF SCHOOL AND DISTRICT EFFECTIVENESS


While the present-day concept of school turnaround rose to prominence seemingly overnight with the rollout of the SIG program, the roots of these dramatic reforms run deep in the literature on educational effectiveness and improvement.

In the late 1970s, partially in response to the Coleman Report (Coleman, 1966) and other studies (e.g., Jencks et al., 1972) reporting that the effects of school characteristics on student achievement were far weaker than were the effects of poverty, race, and other family background variables, scholars began to produce an extensive collection of studies about effective schools. Intended in part to prove that instructionally effective schools could exist for high-poverty, high-minority communities, Edmonds and his contemporaries compiled a range of studies about the properties of schools that were linked with higher standardized test scores (Brookover, Beady, Flood, & Schweitzer, 1979; Edmonds, 1979a, 1979b; Mortimore, Sammons, Stoll, Lewis, & Ecob, 1988; Sammons, 1999). This literature refocused debates about public education from questions of adequate funding and investments in public schools, to questions of what schools could achieve in spite of inequalities in resources and conditions for schools serving primarily low-income children and children of color. Over time, school-effectiveness researchers identified seven common correlates of effective schools: a safe and orderly environment, high expectations for students, strong instructional leadership, frequent monitoring of student progress, time on task, positive community relations, and a clear mission or vision.

This research tradition held steady throughout the restructuring era of the 1980s, but disillusionment eventually set in. Studies revealed that school-level reforms did not lead to sustainable improvements in student achievement. They also did not lead to the large-scale changes envisioned by the architects of state and federal high-stakes accountability policies (Anderson, 2006). Influenced in part by advocacy efforts like Smith and O’Day’s (1991) seminal proposal for more coherent systemic reforms based on state standards and assessments that align each level of public education from the state, to the district, to the school, scholars shifted from taking individual schools as their units of analysis to focusing on entire districts (Elmore, 1993). As policy makers and educational leaders considered how to ignite large-scale improvement throughout whole districts, scholars began inquiring about the characteristics of districts that could spark greater effectiveness in the context of a standards-based, high-stakes accountability environment (Murphy & Hallinger, 1988).

These school and district effectiveness studies did much to focus the attention of scholars, policy makers, and practitioners on the technical aspects of schools and districts that might be strengthened to improve the performance of children of color and children from low-income families. However, critics (Bowers, 2010; Creemers, 1991; Good & Brophy, 1986; Rutter, 1983; Sammons, 1999; Scheerens & Bosker, 1997; Teddlie & Stringfield, 1993; Trujillo, 2013b) pointed to several methodological and conceptual limitations of these studies. The methodologies of both the school and district research traditions relied on small, skewed samples, usually based on unusually high student test scores.3 The studies were also often conducted on samples of convenience or samples based on anecdotal reports rather than on systematically selected cases. This selection process meant that the results of the studies did not represent the range of experiences across the nation’s schools. Likewise, much of this research was based on short-term, snapshot evidence, not on data collected over the entire length of a reform. Such designs incorrectly assumed that the test score gains would be sustained (Bowers, 2010). Further, while later studies expanded the sources of data used to explain effectiveness (Teddlie & Reynolds, 2000), the bulk of this research drew conclusions about the factors that influenced student performance based largely on self-reports from administrators or small, unrepresentative samples of teacher interviews (Teddlie & Stringfield, 1993; Trujillo, 2013b). This severely limited how much the lessons from these studies could be learned from schools or districts with different characteristics. The limited data sources also led researchers to produce somewhat fragmented, incomplete interpretations of the classroom, school, and community dynamics that shaped—and were shaped by—the reforms.

One of the most frequent critiques of these studies was that they relied on a single measure of effectiveness—standardized test scores. While relying on standardized test scores was methodologically problematic because it falsely assumed that the assessments were valid and reliable and also led to narrow conceptions of student success and the purposes of education—ignoring the social, civic, and broader academic goals of schooling. This narrow, test-based definition of effectiveness is characteristic of market-based arguments that assume that education’s primary functions are economic. From this viewpoint, test scores are often employed as the only indicator that schools are preparing students for worthwhile lives and competition in the workplace (Ball, 1998; Rose, 1995; Trujillo, 2013b). This perspective contrasts with arguments that focus on the democratic purposes of schooling, which frame schools as vehicles for fostering the values and skills necessary for collective, democratic participation and civic engagement (Orr & Rogers, 2011). Student scores on standardized tests are far too narrow to be the sole indicators of school success in the democratic model of schooling.

Finally, these effective school and district research traditions were critiqued for their inadequate treatment of the socio-political and normative contexts of schooling (Oakes, Welner, Yonezawa, & Allen, 1998; Thrupp & Willmott, 2003; Trujillo, 2013b; Welner, 2001). The studies discounted the inherently political nature of schools, as seen in issues of who has access to power and resources, who can make decisions, and how resources are allocated. They also overlooked the ways in which norms and beliefs about what quality schooling looks like, and to whom it should be directed, shaped educators’ and communities’ support or rejection of certain reforms. Instead, school and district effectiveness studies were often limited to practical considerations about curricular content, time on task, monitoring, and the like—the technical dimensions of schooling (Trujillo, 2013b). As a result, this school and district research overestimated the relationship not just between schools’ technical changes and students’ traditional academic learning, but students’ democratic development related to civic awareness, values for collective, community-driven problem solving, or commitments to social transformation. It also discounted the ideological opposition that some reforms provoke, the influence of resources like funding and stable staffing, and the vulnerability of even those schools deemed “effective” to the structural effects of poverty and racism (Coleman, 1966).

Thus, despite the persistence of these school and district research traditions, their methodologies often restricted their validity and replicability, as well as their conceptions of effectiveness. Their heavy reliance on standardized test scores as the main indicators of success overemphasized the economic purposes of schools and downplayed the democratic ones. They discounted the powerful roles of schools’ contexts in shaping reforms’ social, political, and normative realities. And they discounted the pervasive effects of class, race, and funding disparities on schools’ potential to improve. It is somewhat ironic, then, that turnaround researchers are now pursuing an analogous line of research on “effectiveness,” this time inquiring about the characteristics of schools and districts that can rapidly, dramatically turn around low student-achievement scores.

RESEARCH ON SCHOOL TURNAROUNDS: OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLES

In 2007, the Mass Insight Education and Research Institute published The Turnaround Challenge (Calkins, Guenther, Belfiore, & Lash, 2007). This report argued for a new, tougher approach to improving the bottom 5% of schools. It was spurred by the proliferation of studies that documented the failure of NCLB-driven reforms to produce quick, intensive test score gains, as well as by the growth of business and management leaders promoting corporate-style turnaround efforts (Collins, 2001; Murphy & Meyers, 2007). At the time the report was issued, school turnaround efforts were beginning to spring up, most notably those spearheaded by Chicago’s Academy for Urban School Leadership (Duke, 2012). The media highlighted several cases of so-called “miracle” schools, low-scoring schools that were alleged to have dramatically changed their performance by firing staff or being turned over to private management companies. Most of these cases were later found lacking in evidential support (Farmer, 2011).

As evidence failed to materialize in support of the effectiveness of NCLB corrective actions, “turnaround specialists” cropped up across the country to meet the demands on schools, districts, and states to swiftly demonstrate test-based effectiveness. Turnaround specialists, a term borrowed from the corporate world, are external assistance providers, private management companies, and principals who claim to specialize in improvement strategies that spur intense test gains. Yet the evidence behind those claims is weak, and their uneven results are beginning to be documented by the media (Dillon, 2010).

Research on recent school and district turnarounds, however, remains in its infancy. While there is substantial empirical research on comparable reform efforts (for example, school reconstitution), rigorous, empirical studies of this increasingly widespread practice are as yet in short supply. In our review of the emergent literature on turnarounds, we identified three books on schools and districts with dramatically “turned around” student performance scores (Duke, 2008; Pappano, 2010; Zavadsky, 2012), 15 journal articles on turnaround policies and their effectiveness (Berkeley, 2012; Cucchiara, Rooney, & Robertson-Kraft, in press; Duke, 2012; Hamilton, Vasquez Heilig, & Pazey, in press; Hansen, 2012; Herman, 2012; Hochbein, 2012; Johnson, 2012; Marsh, Strunk, & Bush, 2013; McGuinn, 2012; Meyers, Lindsay, Condon, & Wan, 2012; Peck & Reitzug, 2014; Shaffer, Reynolds, & Stringfield, 2012; Stuit, 2012; Stuit & Stringfield, 2012) and 27 non-peer-reviewed reports from think tanks, research centers, or advocacy organizations on the subject of school turnaround.4 To review this literature, we created constructed multiple case-level matrices (Miles & Huberman, 1994) in which we coded each work for both its methodological and conceptual characteristics (both preexisting codes and ones that arose inductively through our analysis). We found that the bulk of these sources speculate about the characteristics of schools and districts associated with effective turnarounds, as well as the conditions that could be cultivated to prime turnaround efforts for more intense impact.  In what follows, we summarize the major themes that emerged from this review, as well as their implications for the research on and practice of school and district turnarounds.

CHALLENGES TO IDENTIFYING SCHOOLS IN NEED OF TURNAROUND AND TO IDENTIFYING EFFECTIVE TURNAROUNDS

While we do not share the dominant conception of effectiveness that is used in the literature on school turnarounds—gains in standardized test scores—for the purposes of this article we use the term “effectiveness” as it is employed in this field in order to maintain consistency in language. In doing so, we do not intend to endorse what we view as an overly narrow definition of success, effectiveness, or the ultimate aims of schooling. Rather, we aim to use the most common terminology that carries shared understandings for our readers.

That said, the literature on turnarounds has still not resolved the question of what constitutes an effective turnaround, even insofar as test scores are concerned. Researchers have put forward various proposals for systematically identifying successful turnarounds (Hansen, 2012; Hansen & Choi, 2011; Huberman, Parrish, Hannan, Arellanes, & Shambaugh, 2011; Meyers et al., 2012), yet there is no single agreed-upon definition for the amount of growth that is required, the length of time in which this growth should occur, or the requisite sustainability of the results. Techniques for tracking growth in single cohorts of students, rather than comparing different groups of students, have not been devised. As a result, many of the initial studies of successful turnaround cases resemble the earlier studies of effective schools and districts—they are selected based on anecdotal evidence or reputation, and they ignore counterexamples in which turnaround efforts are associated with decreased scores. Furthermore, given that a turnaround is, by definition, a case of swift, dramatic gains in test performance, identifying effective turnaround schools requires researchers to rely on single- or two-year fluctuations in test scores—patterns that tend not to hold up from one year to the next (Bowers, 2010).

Alongside these challenges to researching turnarounds, the practice of identifying SIG-eligible schools is equally problematic. While the federal guidelines use Title 1 eligibility to identify schools with high concentrations of poverty, Title 1 eligibility tends to be under-reported, especially at the federal level. In addition, the federal guidelines do not account for schools serving high concentrations of English learners or special needs students. As previously mentioned, each state has its own criteria for SIG eligibility. The result is a federal program that is based on inconsistent definitions of successful turnarounds, that relies on faulty, test-based measures of effectiveness, and that continues to base high-stakes decisions on these measures

LIMITED SNAPSHOT ANALYSES

Aside from the basic challenge of identifying effective turnaround cases, the results of the few systematic—but not peer-reviewed—studies of turnaround efforts are decidedly mixed. Some analyses have suggested that turnaround schools have achieved small test gains and improved student attendance compared to other low-performing schools in Philadelphia and Chicago (de la Torre, Allensworth, Jagesic, Sebastian, & Salmonowicz, 2012; Gold, Good, Robertson-Kraft, & Callahan, 2011; Gold, Norton, Good, & Levin, 2012). A recent study of turnaround in California by University of Virginia researcher Thomas Dee found more substantial test gains, but the study was based on a very small sample of schools and on a single year’s test scores (Dee, 2012). Like the earlier research on effective schools and districts, such “snapshot” studies of effective turnarounds examine gains made over a brief period of time—usually only one year—and therefore suffer from the same methodological shortcomings outlined above.5 An exception to these “snapshot” studies can be seen in the Institute for Education Science’s current Turning Around Low-Performing Schools project. This longitudinal federal study, whose preliminary results were released in 2012, systematically analyzed three years worth of test score data to identify and study sustained turnarounds. Out of 750 low-performing schools, the researchers identified 15% who sustained an increase in the number of proficient students by at least five percentile points, usually in math (Sparks, 2012). Other analyses have yielded opposite findings, concluding that turnaround cases did not produce the expected changes in test scores (Designs for Change, 2012). One case study found that non-test-based indicators of quality, such as learning climate, the level of intellectually challenging academic work, or family and community involvement, did not match up with turnaround schools’ test scores from year to year (Berkeley, 2012).

Other studies have taken up questions that consider issues beyond the narrow window of test performance. For example, some analysts examined the long-term test performance of schools initially identified as turnarounds. They found that almost all gains attained during the one- to three-year windows were not sustained and in some cases were followed by later declines in scores (Hochbein, 2012; Smarick, 2010; Stuit, 2010, 2012).

FAULTY AND UNWARRANTED CLAIMS

Aside from the problematic nature of such short-term studies, we also identified several faulty and unwarranted claims that underlie turnaround interventions on the whole. These include the claims that turnarounds have produced the desired results in the corporate sector, and that there is evidence to support the effectiveness of drastic reconstitution of school personnel (Lazarín, 2011). Neither claim is supported by empirical evidence.6

The majority of the literature on school turnarounds urges schools and districts to pattern their efforts after corporate management and turnaround strategies.7 It encourages schools to avail themselves of the lessons gleaned in the corporate sector on the assumption that businesses have experienced success with these types of intervention (Murphy & Meyers, 2007; Rhim, Kowal, Hassel, Hassel, & Crittenden, 2007). However, researchers learned long ago that corporate turnarounds and related management strategies rarely yield the positive results that reformers expect (Altman, 1968; Nystrom & Starbuck, 1984). One analysis linked only a quarter of business turnaround efforts with major organizational improvements (David, 2010). Other analysts of popular, turnaround-style management reforms found that such efforts are linked with greater outsider appeal and perceptions of innovation, but not actual improved company performance over both short- and long-term periods (Staw & Epstein, 2000).

Scholars of critical policy studies call attention to the broader political economy within which corporate school turnaround efforts take place. They point to the school improvement industry (Rowan, 2002), also referred to as the education management industry (Gunter, 1997), that is flourishing as a result of federal policies. The SIG program and other high-stakes accountability policies either mandate that schools contract with external organizations as a condition of their funding or create situations in which schools must search for outside help to meet the policies’ demands around testing, data management, and training (Burch, 2009; Trujillo, 2014a, Trujillo & Woulfin, 2014). For outside consultants, school reform agencies, for-profit companies, post-secondary institutions, and other self-styled “turnaround specialists,” the SIG program has been a windfall (Klein, 2012b). Yet the effectiveness of these private providers of technical assistance is not tracked, and accountability for their results is not written into the policies (Klein, 2012b).

In Colorado, for example, these private providers received 35 percent of the state’s SIG money—$9.4 million—over two years (Klein, 2012a). The dollars paid for data analysts, principal and teacher coaches, and professional development, but their effectiveness was dubious. One of the more expensive contractors, Global Partnership Schools, received $7.4 million to support five SIG-funded schools in Pueblo whose performance declined during their partnership. Some scholars caution that relying on these untested agencies risks narrowing the types of teaching and learning that are promoted in SIG schools to only standardized test-based content and activities (Burch, 2009; Trujillo, 2014b). These agencies tend to promote reforms centered on simple measurable outcomes, standardized processes, and observable indicators of test-based effectiveness, rather than broader, democratic aims around social justice (Trujillo, 2014a). These researchers also interrogate the ways in which such policy arrangements’ can thwart more democratic schooling, particularly for schools in racially and socioeconomically isolated neighborhoods (Lipman, 2011; Saltman, 2007). The scholars articulate a neoliberal policy framework that frames education as a private good over which private contractors can compete, rather than a public good that contributes to a democratic society.

Alongside this literature, a sizeable body of rigorous, systematic research on early reconstitution reforms shows that firing and replacing school staffs has usually failed to achieve the intended effects. Meta-analyses show that reconstituted schools in San Francisco continued to show up on lists of low-performing schools (Mathis, 2009; Mintrop & Trujillo, 2005). In Chicago, longitudinal research on reconstitution revealed that staff replacements were no higher in quality than their predecessors and that teacher morale deteriorated under these reforms (Hess, 2003). Others who have studied Chicago’s reform experiences concluded that the complex “cake mix” that is required to turn around a struggling school includes stable teachers and principals that cohere and grow over time (Apple, 2007a). Yet, as Weiss and Long (2013) point out, “a large body of research explains the advantages of experienced teachers over lower-paid novices, and of the importance of continuity and stability in improving student outcomes” (e.g., Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, & Easton, 2010). Research demonstrates that teacher turnover harms schools even when higher quality replacements are found. In addition to the toll on students’ and teachers’ morale, localized knowledge about students and the community declines. Collegiality, trust, and professional relations all wane—necessary conditions for improving student performance. In DC, New York, and Chicago, not only were lower quality teachers brought in to replace the fired ones; more experienced, credentialed teachers voluntarily resigned after the layoffs (e.g., Carroll & Foster, 2010; Haycock, 2006; Holzman, 2012). And a comprehensive, long-term study in Maryland demonstrated that reconstitution inadvertently reduced the social stability and climate of schools and was not associated with either organizational improvements or heightened student performance (Malen, Croninger, Muncey, & Jones, 2002).

Also implicit in the claims about the efficacy of reconstitution is the assumption that the benefits accrued from replacing the bulk of a school’s staff will outweigh the unintended consequences. Yet, retrospective analyses of such dramatic interventions have concluded that the resulting logistical challenges, political fallout, and loss of organizational culture make such interventions prohibitive (Dowdall, 2011; Mathis, 2009). Finding enough qualified personnel to refill vacant slots in reconstituted or turnaround schools has proven difficult. In some cities, for example, districts found themselves swapping principals from one SIG-funded school to another. In Louisville, over 40% of the teachers hired to work in turnaround schools were completely new to teaching (Klein, 2012a). Another study showed how hiring difficulties forced many reconstituted schools to begin the school year with high numbers of substitutes (Center on Education Policy, 2008).

Most recently, researchers have examined the impacts of these market-oriented reforms on student outcomes in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC, three major urban districts that were led by vocal proponents of these types of initiatives. Analyzing reliable district-level test score data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), they found that turnaround-driven layoffs and related reforms (e.g., school closures, standardized test-based accountability systems, increased charters, and “no excuses” takes on the influence of poverty) did not improve student outcomes, did not strengthen school systems, did not save money, and actually increased instability, faculty churn, and achievement gaps (Weiss & Long, 2013). They also found that the reforms increased spending (driven largely by private donations with policy strings attached) without public and parental input. They conclude that such turnaround strategies, which hinged on corporate supporters and framed public districts as portfolios for private investors, jeopardized “civic engagement, social and emotional development, and other critical aspects of education that society deems important” (Weiss & Long, 2013, p. 68). In other words, they “depressed democratic input without helping students.”

SAME STRATEGY, DIFFERENT LABELS

One of the most prominent themes to emerge in our review of the nascent literature on turnarounds was that the bulk of analyses advise schools or districts to enact strategies that greatly resemble those put forth in earlier generations of school and district effectiveness research. In fact, in our review of the work to date the most common turnaround recommendations for schools and districts include finding strong leaders, focusing on data and monitoring, establishing a safe, orderly climate, and establishing a culture of high expectations (e.g., Aladjem et al., 2010; Baroody, 2011; Duke, 2008; EdTrust, 2005; Huberman et al., 2011; Knudson, Shambaugh, & O‘Day, 2011; Perlman & Redding, 2011; Picucci, Brownson, Kahlert, & Sobel, 2002a, 2002b; Shaffer et al., 2012; Thompson, Brown, Townsend, Henry, & Fortner, 2011).

Like many district-specific studies of effectiveness, turnaround studies advocate for schools to focus on the technical dimensions of reform that are presumed to yield quick boosts in test scores: curriculum alignment, test preparation, and a sharp focus on test-based student achievement goals. But the presumed boost from such reforms is only weakly supported by rigorous, long-term empirical research (Trujillo, 2013b). These recommendations echo those of the earlier school and district effectiveness studies almost word for word. One possible exception to these patterns might be found in the current IES Turning Around Low-Performing Schools studies, whose preliminary results suggest these conventional technical strategies are most helpful when implemented in conjunction with multiple interventions, including strategic teacher recruitment and intensive professional development (Sparks, 2012). Nevertheless, the overall similarity across the literature raises questions about the degree to which the knowledge base on turnarounds has evolved conceptually and theoretically in the years since those studies were conducted.

The emergent field of turnaround literature is distinct, however, in its consistent calls for another series of market-based change strategies (Baroody, 2011; Kutash, Nico, Gorin, Rahmatullah, & Tallant, 2010). The majority of reports recommend that schools and districts find ways to reduce collective bargaining, increase site-based autonomy over personnel and budgetary decisions, prioritize customer service, reduce waste, and introduce incentives and stronger accountability for teachers based on test scores (Calkins et al., 2007; Hoffman, 1989; Murphy & Meyers, 2007; Rhim et al., 2007). Recommendations are also made to achieve early wins, break conventional norms, and “push rapid-fire experimentation” (Hassel & Hassel, 2009). Such tactics are grounded in aggressive business management practices related to competition, performance measurement, and efficiency. And many of them diminish the roles of unions (Designs for Change, 2012).

A PERSISTENT FOCUS ON TESTING RATHER THAN TEACHING AND LEARNING

This turnaround literature continues the earlier effectiveness studies' emphasis on test-based notions of success. In fact, all but one of the analyses that we reviewed measured school effects in terms of student scores on a standardized assessment. The exception was a case study of one school in which the author found that non-test-based indicators of quality, such as classroom learning climate, the level of intellectually challenging academic work, or family and community involvement, did not correlate with the schools’ test scores from year to year (Berkeley, 2012). Only a handful of analyses also considered graduation or attendance rates (Luppescu et al., 2011).

However, a few researchers have begun to consider turnarounds’ non-student related effects. Cucchiara and her colleagues found wide variability in teachers’ perceptions of positive working conditions across Philadelphia’s turnaround schools (in press). In this case, the research team identified strong links between teachers’ perceptions of working conditions and their overall support for the turnaround efforts. In Austin, Johnson found that the closure and subsequent turnaround efforts of one school that served predominantly students of color constituted “a type of social and civic death for the community” (2012, p. 233), as the reform effectively stripped the locality of its base for historical knowledge, community development and advocacy, and social and economic opportunities that arise around neighborhood schools. These studies point to turnarounds’ broader, usually deleterious impact on teachers, families, and communities at large.

Yet the most common patterns in this early literature reveal that a narrow focus on standardized test scores still predominates in the field. They also show how rarely researchers consider multiple forms of effectiveness to either triangulate findings or explore potential contrasts between test performance and other indicators of quality.

DECONTEXTUALIZED TURNAROUND SCHOOLS

Our review of the research on turnarounds revealed that almost all authors continue to focus primarily on the within-school factors that may shape the potential of schools to turn around test performance, in place of research that situates schools within their broader socio-political and normative contexts (Berliner, 2009; Carter & Welner, 2013). By concentrating primarily on technical issues around hiring and firing, curricular changes, and the like, this emerging field seems to be developing along the same lines as the previous generations of school and district effectiveness research. It also appears to be perpetuating the same narrowly framed debates about public education that consider changes inside of schools in isolation from schools’ broader institutional conditions like federal and state funding arrangements, among other factors.

One minor exception to this pattern of decontextualization can be seen in the literature’s treatment of community engagement with the reforms. Most analyses advise leaders to solicit community input. Yet they recommend doing so in order to generate support for the turnaround (Mathis, 2012). In addition to Johnson’s (2012) previously described study that examined a turnaround’s contextual effects, Marsh and her colleagues observed that Los Angeles’ blended turnaround and portfolio reforms, despite initially attracting more diverse stakeholder participation, experienced considerable challenges to developing clear understandings about and support for the reform, engaging parents and community members, attracting enough proposals by teams interested in managing the schools, maintaining transparent decision-making processes, and avoiding the unintended consequences of competition, like spending more time marketing schools’ plans to the community than on designing the particulars of the plans themselves (Marsh et al., 2013). These rare exceptions aside, most analysts are silent on the potential broader purposes of community engagement. This literature generally fails to recommend soliciting input into the specifics of the turnaround process, facilitating more democratic decision making in public schools, or advancing notions of the public good. The result, as in the school and district effectiveness literature, is a set of proposals that discount the powerful influence of social, political, and other contexts in shaping school reforms.


ENGAGING COMMUNITIES IN TURNAROUNDS


At present, no systematic analyses have been conducted on the involvement of community organizations in the school turnarounds, transformations, restarts, or closings that were initiated under the SIG program. Yet lessons from comprehensive research on community organizations’ engagement in analogous reforms demonstrate the potentially constructive roles they can play in turnaround-style efforts that aim for dramatic improvements in teaching and learning. The pockets of community-driven practices that are materializing around turnarounds are also promising.

A small but rapidly growing body of rigorous research points to the ways in which community organizations have effectively become engaged in analogous reforms in low-income communities and communities of color—the populations that are SIG-eligible and most likely to be targeted for turnaround (Mediratta, Shah, & McAlister, 2009; Oakes, Rogers, & Lipton, 2006; Orr & Rogers, 2011; Warren & Mapp, 2011). Analyses of community organizing campaigns have demonstrated how such organizations drive reforms by successfully bringing about not just technical change, but essential political and normative change. For example, researchers have documented how community organizations develop meaningful roles for community members in school decision making, increase social capital within underresourced communities, and help shift understandings about the structural causes of educational inequity in high-poverty communities of color (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001; Renée, Welner, & Oakes, 2010; Shirley, 1997, 2002; Warren, 2001). A national cross-case analysis of more than 140 community organizations identified the specific ways in which such organizations effectively foster cross-community alliances, develop democratic leadership, and improve civic participation. In-depth case studies have revealed the organizations’ impacts on policy and resource-allocation decisions, school-level improvements, and student performance (Gold, Simon, Mundell, & Brown, 2004; Mediratta et al., 2008; Renée et al., 2010). More recent research has begun to link community organizing with more equitable school-funding arrangements, effective teacher recruitment and retention, and increased access to rigorous curricula (Renée & McAlister, 2011). Together, these studies suggest a wide range of possible roles for communities in promoting more equitable, democratic school turnarounds, and to expanding scholars’ and practitioners’ notions of what it means to collectively turn around a school.

Recent involvement by community organizations in turnaround efforts is consistent with the implications arising from this research. For example, community organizations in Chicago are working together to protest the district’s plan to turnaround or close several schools. Chicago community organizers are identifying ways to ensure that parents’ concerns inform the district’s turnaround and closure decisions. Through these efforts, parents have collectively communicated their concerns that too many schools in low-income neighborhoods that were historically neglected have been either closed or converted into charter schools, thereby creating neighborhood instability and limiting the ability of students to attend local community schools (Ahmed-Ullah, 2012a, 2012b; Grimm, 2011).

In New York City, stakeholders, including citywide coalitions of parents and students, formed the New York City Working Group on School Transformation, which recently released a report showing that as a result of turnaround and closure strategies, the highest need students are overconcentrated in the city’s most struggling schools. The group argued that instead of closing or privatizing schools, the city’s Department of Education should invest in creating a network of struggling schools, or zone, to support their transformation. This network would highlight the successful practices of the cities’ most effective schools, share validated improvement strategies, provide professional development, and ultimately build the capacity of the school system as a whole to identify and support struggling schools. The Working Group also called for the development of multiple indicators of school effectiveness and early-warning indicators of deteriorating school performance (NYC Working Group on School Transformation, 2012).

At the national level, the two largest teachers unions are developing strategies to put community priorities at the center of policy and collaboratively design turnaround partnerships to reinvigorate both struggling school systems and whole communities. For example, the American Federation of Teachers has enlisted the support of more than 40 partners—government, nonprofits, labor, foundations, and business—to bolster the social and economic contexts in which West Virginia’s McDowell County public schools are situated (2012). Each partner has agreed to provide services and financial support to the schools and students’ families—including integrated health care, teacher recruitment and development, housing, and literacy support. The National Education Association recently launched the Priority Schools Campaign, a collaborative partnership among community members, parents, teachers, and administrators intended to leverage local resources and expertise to cultivate meaningful, sustainable turnarounds in SIG schools serving large numbers of English learners, students of color, and low-income children (Cody, 2012). The partnership aims to learn from community members’ wisdom and experience in order to design turnaround efforts that emphasize social justice, teacher professionalism, and reforms that are unique to each community’s specific conditions. Though these initiatives are relatively new, both offer examples of the ways in which communities might play leading roles in designing, planning, and implementing more equitable, democratic turnarounds under the current federal policy structure.

Finally, since the SIG policy’s implementation, parents, students and community members from turnaround-targeted schools have publicly voiced their concerns about the program. In 2010 thirty-four grassroots community organizations from around the nation joined together to form a national campaign called Communities for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) to influence SIG implementation and future legislation. In a report called “Our Communities Left Behind,” CEPS criticized the administration for not focusing the SIG program on teaching, learning, and community engagement, as well as for the program’s disproportionate impact on schools serving low-income communities of color. The coalition proposed three revisions to the federal policy: replace the four mandated reform “options” with research-proven strategies to improve teaching and learning; require turnaround schools to provide wrap-around social supports; and engage communities, parents, students, and educators in developing school-assessment processes and improvement plans (CEPS, 2010).


DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS


Lessons derived from the empirical research on educational effectiveness and high-stakes accountability, as well as from the growing literature on community engagement in reform, suggest that the current SIG policies will require different funding structures, focuses, guidelines, and measures of success if they are to promote more equitable, democratic turnarounds. Indeed, the overwhelming reliance of SIG policies on market-based strategies to improve the nation’s most struggling schools shows how the administration is banking on tools like competition, standardization, and test-based accountability to improve performance,despite what research teaches us about their consistent lack of success in the corporate sector.

The market-based character of turnaround policies diverts public attention from fundamental questions about adequate, equitable funding and the insidious effects on schools of socioeconomic and racial isolation. In doing so, SIG policies and the literature promoting them misrepresent how powerfully students’ opportunities to learn are shaped by structural conditions related to poverty, race, and government spending.

Because the early literature on turnarounds repeats many of the methodological and conceptual errors that characterized previous generations of effectiveness research, these analyses have ended up calling for policies that are framed as challenging the status quo, but which in fact perpetuate inequalities in conditions and resources among the neediest schools.

These policies are also limited by their reliance on test-based indicators of effectiveness. In this way, they carry on a long tradition of policies that promote narrowly economic purposes for schools, and that edge out other academic, social, and democratic purposes, purposes that are not easily measured by standardized tests.

The absence of community voices in the SIG policy and its literature also speak volumes about the lack of democratic input into both the development of these policies and their implementation. While individual cases of community engagement in turnarounds are emerging, researchers and policy makers have been largely silent on this democratic deficit. The result is a policy that is driven almost solely by elites, and which excludes crucial perspectives of those most impacted by the policies—families and educators in turnaround-targeted schools.

Meanwhile, public education’s current fiscal crisis is pressuring the nation’s most impoverished, least resourced schools to opt into the SIG program in order to offset deficits in their basic operating funds. While the program provides temporary financial resources for those schools that are willing—or driven—to participate in turnaround-style reform, it does little to alter the long-term financial and social constraints within which these schools must try to function. The result of all of this is another round of federal policies that continue to reproduce the same inequitable, undemocratic distribution of resources, conditions, and reforms in those schools in greatest need of fundamental change.

Therefore, based on the provisional lessons that are emerging from current SIG-inspired turnarounds, from research on earlier efforts to improve school and district effectiveness, and from pockets of promising community-based practices that are developing at local and national levels, we propose six steps that federal, state, and local policy makers can take toward fostering more equitable, democratic turnaround processes.

First, increase current federal and state spending for public education, particularly as it is allocated for more democratic turnarounds. This includes and increasing and equitably distributing federal and state education funding based on districts’ and schools’ demonstrated needs (i.e., poverty levels, communities’ economic and racial isolation, etc.).

Second, focus turnaround policies on improving the quality of teaching and learning rather than on technical–structural changes. Outline a set of options for schools and districts focused on improving the quality of teaching and learning through efforts to systematically recruit and retain qualified teachers in turnaround schools, which historically tend to be difficult to staff. Provide guidelines for ongoing, cumulative professional development that deepens teachers’ knowledge of pedagogy and of the community in which their schools are embedded. Grant schools and districts greater autonomy to determine the details of each school’s turnaround plans. Provisions such as these would give schools and districts the authority to implement intense, dramatic improvements without undercutting the democratic nature of their efforts.

Third, engage a broad cross-section of schools’ communities—teachers, students, parents, and community organizations—in planning and implementing turnaround strategies that are tailored to each school and district context. Require school and district leaders to solicit and incorporate teachers’ professional expertise as well as parent, student and community input into decisions. Specify the required timelines, financial and nonfinancial resources, and accountability structures for meaningful community engagement. Offer school, district, and state leaders training on authentic community engagement and models of best engagement practices at the federal, state, and district levels. At the school level, develop a representative oversight body that can solicit teachers’ professional judgments and the community’s ideas, concerns, and shared values and vision about what they want their schools to look like. At the district level, establish a SIG advisory committee for stakeholders from multiple school sites to share experience and wisdom on school turnaround. And surround struggling schools with comprehensive, wrap-around supports that stabilize schools and communities.

Fourth, incorporate multiple indicators of effectiveness—apart from test scores—that reflect the range of purposes for schools. Develop indicators of schools’ progress in setting and working toward other academic, social, and democratic goals for their students. Measure students’ preparation for long-term academic success by tracking access to highly credentialed teachers and college-preparatory and/or advanced courses. Track English Learner reclassification, graduation, and college-enrollment rates. Disaggregate these indicators by race, family income, and language status, as well as by students’ access to highly credentialed, experienced teachers. Measure schools’ development of students’ social skills and awareness by assessing students’ work in group-based learning tasks, problem-based projects, and curricula that relate directly to students’ communities. Track suspension and expulsion rates. Disaggregate these indicators by race, family income, and language status, and access to highly credentialed, experienced teachers. And measure schools’ democratic effectiveness by tracking the degree to which schools engage members of the public in school governance and improvement planning and the transparency of schools’ decisions about budgeting, resources, and programs. Track these indicators longitudinally to assess whether outcomes and conditions for particular groups of students and schools are improving over time.

Finally, support ongoing, systematic research, evaluation, and dissemination examining all aspects of turnaround processes in schools and districts. Solicit and fund research and evaluations that incorporate multiple points-of-view—teachers, students, and parents—to better understand what schools gained and where they experienced challenges when attempting to turn themselves around. Complement these more complete perspectives with information from classroom observations that reveals how these reforms are associated with different forms of instructional quality—beyond those reflected in standardized test scores. And support long-term research that illuminates the evolution of school and district turnarounds, including the rich historical and social legacies that aid successful turnarounds or thwart them, and that considers how such patterns unfold at the state, district, school, and community levels. Always disseminate findings in formats useful to those designing and leading turnaround efforts (e.g., accessible reports, guides, case studies, webinars, clearinghouses, and presentations).

Notes

1. Special thanks to Alan Schoenfeld, for astutely commenting on the "irrational exuberance" for market ideas in education during a personal communication about the research in this paper.

2. This article draws largely on the legislative policy report by Trujillo & Rénee (2012). Democratic School Turnarounds: Pursuing Equity and Learning from Evidence. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/democratic-school-turnarounds.

3. The school effectiveness studies eventually incorporated more rigorous designs, but did not do so initially. See Klitgaard, R. and G. Hall (1974). Are there unusually effective schools? Journal of Human Resources 74: 90–106; Brookover, W., C. Beady, et al. (1979). School systems and student achievement: Schools can make a difference. New York, Praeger; and Teddlie, C. and S. Stringfield (1993). Schools do make a difference: Lessons learned from a ten-year study of school effects. New York, Teachers College Press.

4. These sources are all cited throughout the following section.

5. A single year’s changes in test scores are likely to be reflections of multiple random effects or of confounding variables like changes in enrollment patterns or in the numbers of students tested. For more on this, see T. J. Kane and D. O. Staiger (2002). Volitility in school test scores: Implications for test-based accountability systems. Brookings Papers on Education Policy. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.

6. For an analysis of the roles of think tanks and other intermediaries in framing and promoting literature on education policies and programs for policy makers, typically around market-based policy agendas that have little empirical basis, see Lubienski, C., Scott, J., & DeBray, E. (2011). The rise of intermediary organizations in knowledge production, advocacy, and educational policy. Teachers College Record, ID Number: 16487.

7. These studies of business turnarounds, which are often reported in case study formats for business schools, are methodologically lax and prone to exaggerated narratives. For a critique of the business school case study method, see Stewart, M. (2009). The management myth: Why the experts keep getting it wrong (1st ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 6, 2015, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17880, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 10:46:43 PM

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About the Author
  • Tina Trujillo
    University of California
    E-mail Author
    TINA TRUJILLO is an Assistant Professor at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. She earned her Ph.D. in Education from UCLA and her M.A. in Education from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She uses tools from political science and critical policy studies to study the political dimensions of urban district reform, the instructional and democratic consequences of high-stakes accountability policies for students of color and English Learners, and trends in urban educational leadership. Her work is published in a range of journals, including American Educational Research Journal, Journal of Educational Administration, Educational Policy, and Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
  • Michelle Renée
    Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University
    E-mail Author
    MICHELLE RENÉE is an Associate Director and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Annenberg Institute for School Reform Brown University, where she develops and leads strategic cross-site and cross-sector initiatives to increase the effectiveness and equity of urban public schools. Michelle’s areas of expertise include educational equity, education policy, community organizing and research use, and she has published and presented extensively on these topics. She teaches and advises students in the Urban Education Policy Program, serves on AISR’s Leadership Team, and leads AISR’s work in California. Prior to joining AISR, Michelle was a post-doctoral fellow at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access and worked as a legislative assistant in the United States Congress. She holds a BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. in education from the University of California, Los Angeles.
 
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