The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices

reviewed by Jeongmi Kim - February 08, 2016

coverTitle: The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices
Author(s): Lauren Morando Rhim, Sam Redding (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623966701, Pages: 272, Year: 2014
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Lauren Morando Rhim and Sam Redding’s edited volume The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices is a compendium on school turnaround for state and local policymakers and other stakeholders. This edited volume calls on states to take more active roles in school turnaround. It discusses how states can advocate, and lead schools and districts by taking on deeply involved roles in building suitable environments for school turnaround. It focuses on turnarounds that target chronically low-achieving schools based on research and examples of school restructuring or school turnaround efforts at the state and local district level. Individual states have unique educational cultures and social contexts, therefore school turnaround efforts from one district or state may not necessarily fit others. Nevertheless, many educational stakeholders can benefit from the principles guiding state roles that are suggested in this book.

In the introductory chapters, Rhim and Redding provide a concise but informative snapshot on the origin of school turnaround and how that has evolved. They discuss the federal government’s changing roles in public education (from the National Defense Education Act of 1958, to the U.S. Department of Education’s flexibility requests in 2011), its relationship to the states as the federal government faced multiple reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and particularly its reauthorization of ESEA as the No Child Left Behind Act.

Section A identifies chief state officers, state boards of education, and local school boards as key actors in school turnaround, and emphasizes the roles and responsibilities of local school boards and states. Individual states are expected to provide purposeful efforts and support to engage all stakeholders in building an environment for school turnaround.

Section B discusses the need for creating a pro-turnaround regulatory environment. The authors of this section focus on the legal aspects and statutory authority of a state that create a pro-turnaround environment. Dennis Woodruff and Cyrillene Clark introduce ideas based on their work applying private sector personnel policies to public education. Ken Futernick and Adam Urbanski introduce states to Labor-Management Partnerships to break down resistance to urgent changes in processing turnaround. Other authors also provide recommendations to states to build trust and collaboration among local stakeholders, with the possibility of building state-level data systems.

Section C focuses on administering and managing school turnaround. In one chapter, Justin Cohen and Alison Segal review literature on how states provide support for turnaround in their schools and districts. Carol Perlman and Susan Hanes examine examples of how states address the turnaround process through the flexibility requests of NCLB. Janet S. Twyman describes how technology can be used to promote successful student outcomes under state-driven school improvement or turnaround. Daniel Aladjem examines how states evaluate their work in the turnaround process.

Finally, Section D delineates state roles in school turnaround by providing technical assistance to local education agencies (LEAs) and schools, and focuses on state intermediary agencies, external partners, turnaround communities of practice, and English learners in turnaround schools. This section provides an overview of rural district capacity for turnaround, and describes one state education agency’s support for turnaround in American Indian schools and building-level leadership capacities for Native American schools.

The State Role in School Turnaround provides insights into how states and stakeholders process turnaround to enhance student achievement in the lowest performing schools, whether they are overseen by a state, run by new leadership and a new teaching force in the schools, or led by a partner outside of education. However, the content of the book leaves many questions unanswered.

Replacing up to 50% of teachers in a low-performing school is a key feature of the school turnaround process. Replacing teachers and school leaders through turnaround may give students an opportunity to benefit from better principals and more qualified teachers. However, chronically low-performing schools and small rural areas have already faced problems in the recruitment and retention of personnel, so staffing schools in high poverty areas with a sufficient number of highly qualified teachers is even more challenging.

Addressing chronic poverty’s impact on low student achievement is no simple task. When recruitment funds for high quality teachers are exhausted, retaining these educators will become a fundamental challenge. It may not be impossible to dramatically improve student achievement in the lowest performing schools, but it will require consistent support, and include the retention of well-qualified personnel and sustainable fiscal resources. This aspect is not fully recognized in the book to the detriment of states and local districts, and both need to recognize this key issue.

The authors emphasize that states need to collaborate with all stakeholders to implement successful school turnaround. Although districts and schools desperately need dramatically improved student achievement within a year, it will be hard to improve student achievement without highly qualified teachers and strong leadership that support retention in chronically low-achieving schools. This task is not easy for districts and schools to fix without state support. Although some authors in this edited volume point out the necessity of collaboration between states and state universities, this book has fallen short of sufficient ideas or useful examples.

Student learning occurs within and outside of individual classrooms. Students who live in poverty or face violence at home should have access to strong teaching as well as a safe and stable formal learning environment. This book lacks suggestions for how state and local districts can improve external informal learning environments to enhance student achievement in schools that are located in disadvantaged areas.


The State Role in School Turnaround could go into greater depth exploring the roles of families in school education. It would be beneficial to schools and districts if more information were included on how families and communities can cooperate with schools and districts where school turnaround is being processed to develop better educational conditions for students, especially when their home environments are not conducive to learning.

At the end of a long delay in reauthorizing the ESEA Act in December 2015, the U.S. Congress approved the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced the NCLB Act of 2001. ESSA still requires states to identify their lowest performing schools, and allows states and districts more authority than NCLB provided to turn these schools around.

Measures for evaluating turnaround programs are not without limitations—the long-term effects of turnaround are unknown. However, the empirical findings of this book will be beneficial for policymakers, educational practitioners, or researchers who are looking for more sophisticated answers when evaluating program effectiveness and cost-effective analysis in using federal funding, the function of public education for K–12 students, or student outcomes in general.

The State Role in School Turnaround: Emerging Best Practices provides a variety of practical suggestions and insights regarding the roles states play in school turnaround based on research and practical experiences. Some practices that succeed in one state may not be effective or even possible in others. States can consider the successful practices of other states and districts in planning or implementing the process of school turnaround—it is up to individual states and districts to decide which strategies to choose.


Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, Pub. L. No. 8910, 79 Stat. 27 (1965).

Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95 (2015).

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, • 115, Stat. 1425 (2002).

National Defense Education Act of 1958, Pub. L. No. 85–864 (1958).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 08, 2016 ID Number: 19398, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 10:49:13 AM

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