“Never say yes to anything you can’t say no to.”
― Marty Rubin
The question of the hour is are closing schools more effective than school turnaround strategies. As advocates, parents, ed reform leaders and citizens across the state are lobbying and advocating for the passing of various bills to help with school improvement, the biggest question on the table is are the school turnaround plans on all levels helping schools turn around student achievement or are we simply just turning around in circles?
Many times parents rely on the knowledge and recommendations from school leaders and elected representatives on school and student performance. I have asked a dozen parents and stakeholders about their thoughts on the need for school turnaround strategies or school closures. I was interested to find out that parents and stakeholders are aware of the information regarding school turn around strategies. At at recent family engagement event, more than half of the parents asked about school turn around plans feel like they aren’t truly engaged in the process. In fact, many of the parents of children who have traditionally been overlooked or disenfranchised, mentioned how the support and resources provided for the turn around strategies being used don’t connect to their abilities to continue education at home. Their views of school turn around attributed to factors that they feel create and or cause schools to be in positions to close. Some of these factors included:
- Lack of equitable resources
- Lack of transparent and effective engagement
- Lack of awareness and support for early learning
- Lack of true partnership with families and parents
The Wallace Foundation has done a lot of work around supporting school turn around initiatives by providing funding to build strategies and blue prints on how to make this work successful. The success this foundation has found in supporting school turn around strategies starts with empowering educational leaders and decision makers to be intentional about engagement. It requires truly understanding the holistic work of turn around initiatives and their connection to engagement efforts. The key to school turn around strategies is to ensure that we all stakeholders are engaged, informed and involved in the processes, beginning to end, on how the strategies are implemented.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, highlights how epidemics develop and what has to be done to address them effectively. I believe that what we are experiencing in education is a social epidemic which drives the continual need for school turn around plans, leaving the question at hand, are school turn around plans working? The reality is we can only turn around so much before we land right back in the same place we started. Gladwell highlights that the success of any social epidemic is dependent upon the engagement of people. Could it be that school Districts aren’t seeing the success of school turn around strategies because of the methods they are using to engage parents, families and communities? School turn around is simply finding innovative ways to ensure that schools are producing successful, prepared and well rounded students to go into college, careers and society as productive citizens. However, the initiatives to me seem like experiments. We are experimenting and or testing out strategies on children to find success. However, when they don’t happen in the time frame of the turn around plan, drastic decisions have to be made whether it’s to change leadership, revamp academic practices, retrain teachers or in some cases close schools. However, are closing schools really the answer to fixing failing schools when school turn around strategies don’t work. Only time will tell.