Inexperienced Companies Chase U.S. School Funds

By SAM DILLON, NYTimes

Excerpts
With the Obama administration pouring billions into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school-turnaround experts as they compete for the money.
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Overhauling schools is challenging work, and experts say few efforts succeed. Breaking the cycle of failure in a school that has become a drop-out factory requires an “extreme reset,” said Tim Cawley, a managing director at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit group leading several turnaround efforts in Chicago. Usually that means installing a new principal and a newly committed teaching staff, invigorating the school’s culture with high expectations and a no-nonsense discipline, adopting a rigorous curriculum, and carrying out regular testing to determine what has been learned and what needs to be retaught, Mr. Cawley said.

In contrast, many new groups seeking contracts are hoping merely to bring in a new curriculum or retrain some teachers, he said, adding, “We call that turnaround lite.”
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Mr. Duncan helped set off the stampede in a June 2009 speech, saying that only a handful of groups, nationwide, had any experience in school overhauls.

“We need everyone who cares about public education,” he said, “to get into the business of turning around our lowest-performing schools. That includes states, districts, nonprofits, for-profits, universities, unions and charter organizations.”

For-profits should NOT be included in this list. There should be enough knowledge and capacity within the education community to support the reforms needed without mudding the water with profit motives.

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