Improvements in School Improvements

By Mike Ward

The media interview about my appointment to head a school transformation consortium had covered our methodology, systems, and success record -- when the reporter put his cards on the table.

“I’ve been covering school reform for years,” he said. “Here we are, still trying to turn schools around. Why should people believe that things will be different this time?”

Having been involved for years in school improvement efforts, I had to admit he had a point. Many highly acclaimed approaches have faltered in the face of the challenges of struggling schools. Of more than 4,000 schools in “restructuring” under No Child Left Behind over the past three years, almost 3,000 entered while only about 500 emerged. In too many instances, when low-performing schools do turn around, the improvement proves to be short-lived.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that the time is now ripe for success, if we heed the lessons of the past and take advantage of some opportunities we haven’t had before. We know a great deal more than we used to about school improvement, how difficult it is, how long it takes, and what is really required to succeed.

At the same time, we have enough federal funding to put what we know into action. The School Improvement Grant (SIG) and Race to the Top (RTTT) programs combined provide more than $6 billion for chronically underperforming schools. Finally, we have some of the most capable, committed, and experienced educators in the country ready to step into troubled schools and provide the help they need.

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