School Turnarounds Meet Chevy Chase, Martin Short, and Steve Martin

3 amigos

I believe a key source of wisdom has not been examined in our quest to fix failing schools.

And that source of wisdom is the movie Three Amigos.  

1. In the minds of some in the K-12 chattering class, school turnarounds will never work. 

Ned Nederlander: This is not a town of weaklings! You can use your strengths against El Guapo. Now, what is it that this town really does well? 

Townspeople: Hmmm. Hmmm? Ummm.   [long pause] 
Mama Sanchez: We can sew! 

Dusty Bottoms: There you go, you can sew. 

School Turnaround Version

Ned: You can use your strengths to turn this school around and close the achievement gap!  Now, what is it that this school does really well?

Staff: Hmmm.  Hmmm?  Ummm.

[long pause] 

Teacher: We can have long, circular meetings where nothing concrete is ever decided.  

Dusty:  There you go, you can have long, circular meetings where nothing concrete is ever decided!  

* * *

2. In the minds of other K-12 commentators, school turnarounds will never work — but for different reasons.  

El Guapo: Jefe, you do not understand women. You cannot force open the petals of a flower. When the flower is ready, it opens itself up to you. 

Jefe: So when do you think Carmen will open up her flower to you? 

El Guapo: Tonight, or I will kill her! 

School Turnaround Version

Bushy-Tailed Turnaround Guy: You do not understand teachers. You cannot force them to change.  You have to work with them collaboratively, build a sense of trust and mutual respect.  

Jefe: So when do you think the teachers will change?

Bushy-Tailed Turnaround Guy: Today, or I will fire them all!

* * *

3. And last but not least, some believe turnarounds will work.  

Lucky Day: Well, we’re just gonna have to use our brains. 

Ned, Dusty: Damn it! 

Guestblogger ~ Mike Goldstein

One Reply to “School Turnarounds Meet Chevy Chase, Martin Short, and Steve Martin”

  1. Mike,

    Have you ever participated in a successful school turnaround? If so what were the lessons you learned?

    But I don’t get your point. Are you referring to recent news accounts in Chicago or LA? Are you challenging the estimate that turnarounds have a 20 to 30% chance of success? And what is success? Locke is one of the very few efforts where they didn’t “cream.” But they made the school safer and you can’t sneeze at that essential first step.

    Did you read and see the photo of the Chicago student who is pleased that he doesn’t have to be afraid all of the time. I feel bad that all of the teachers in that turnaround lost their jobs and only 70% (as I recall) were rehired but I feel worst about the kids. So I support complete reorganization as ONE way of attempting turnarounds.

    But I rarely hear “reformers” acknowledge the obvious – that turnarounds almost always dump the most troubled students on the remaining neighborhood schools.

    Among the drastic measures required is the need for people to speak honestly. The Chicago turnaround director made the statement that was absurd on its face that Harper in Chicago transferred kids because “A particularly disruptive kid is less likely to misbehave in an unfamiliar environment.” On the other hand, he told part of the story when he “also said the school lost students when administrators began to properly discipline kids.”

    Why can’t neighborhood schools assess discipline? Are there no neighborhood schools that would like to do so? Real world, as society invests in more choice and magnet schools, it takes away even more of the power of the remaining neighborhood schools to enforce rules. Society forces the neighborhood schools to accept a level of disorder and violence that we wouldn’t consider in schools for our own families.

    Does the answer require more alternative slots and accelerated middle schools? I strongly believe so. Is there a potential down side? Definitely. Would society consider investments in alternative schools that are good enough to redress the danger of stigmatization? I believe so.

    But we can’t get there from here without honest discussions. And that is not served by the implication that “its being done.”

    The Chicago story ended with the a student who “at 17, he is already hardened to the possibility of hope.

    “But how long you think all this is going to last?” he asks. “They’ll spend their time here, and then it’ll go right back to how it was.”

    If we want to help those students we need to drop the pose that that selective schools can be replicated with the resources that are currently available.

    You asked previously the question of why downgrade charters when they succeed by doing the obvious? Of course, you are right. Charters are allowed to establish safe and orderly environments. All schools deserve that power. But as with most of these problems, that challenge is much harder for neighborhood schools than charters and other selective schools.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.