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Tuesday, 11th May 2010

Restructuring 'Restructuring' - Improving Interventions for Low-Performing Schools and Districts

Restructuring 'Restructuring' - Improving Interventions for Low-Performing Schools and Districts
Source: Education Sector

In 1997, the state of California labeled Markham Middle School as low-performing. Located in the Watts neighborhood of Southeastern Los Angeles, Markham is stuffed with over 1,500 students in just three grades, sixth–eighth. Roughly 70 percent of the students are Hispanic, and 30 percent are black. Eighty-two percent are poor. That year, the average Markham student scored at the 16th percentile in math and 12th percentile in reading.

Over the next 11 years, the state and then the federal government under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) enacted a series of reforms designed to turn Markham and other schools like it around. Officials affixed a variety of alarming labels to these schools: “chronically low performing,” “failing,” or “troubled.” They drew up plans, disbursed funds, and hired specialists. Principals and teachers came and went, while politicians of all stripes vowed to get tough and do what it takes to reform these schools or close them down. Yet, at the end of all that, Markham Middle School was still open for business, still serving low-income and minority students, and still low-performing. In 2009 only 3 percent of the students were proficient in math and 11 percent in English.

Markham Middle is not unusual—there are many hundreds of similar schools nationwide. While advocates and interest groups for the past eight years have contested the merits of NCLB—arguing about standardized testing, “Adequate Yearly Progress,” and the best way to properly identify the worst schools—schools like Markham have been mired in chronic failure. Even today as Congress considers reauthorizing NCLB, much of the debate continues to center on what measures should be used to label schools as high-performing, low-performing, or somewhere in between. Relatively little attention has gone to fixing schools that, like Markham Middle, look bad no matter what method of evaluation is used to label them. The biggest challenge in public education is no longer determining which schools need help. It’s determining how to help them, and when to decide that no amount of help will do.

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