The nation’s 12,000 chronically low-performing public schools trap families in a cycle of poverty, so we are investing in entrepreneurs who are building organizations that will rapidly create strong performance and academic cultures of high expectations in these schools.
Developing organizations that can reliably turn around chronically low-performing schools is a vital need nationally, and has been named a top priority by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He has targeted the 5,000 lowest-performing schools – the worst 1 percent in the country – which stand as one of the most enduring causes of the national achievement gap. These “dropout factories” contribute significantly to a crisis in which nearly half of students in the nation’s largest cities fail to complete high school, and where low-income students are one-sixth as likely as high-income students to complete college.
Replacing low-performing schools with a new generation of high performing schools requires dramatic changes to a school’s culture and instructional design, not incremental and piecemeal interventions. Such turnaround efforts continue to serve the same students who were poorly served in the past, but provide them with a school with far stronger academic expectations and culture. Effective approaches to school turnaround involve giving school leaders control over major decisions on a school’s financial resources, hiring, evaluation and compensation of staff, curricula, pedagogy, school operations, student recruitment, enrollment and discipline as well as parent and community engagement. In exchange, school turnaround leaders expect to be held accountable for enabling students to overcome the school’s past performance shortfalls and rise to strong academic performance. Such effective new models will help to answer the enormous national need to turn around the lowest-performing schools.