The comments readers have submitted on our Try, Try Again post echo something we hear a lot: that efforts to fix failing schools can’t work. On one hand, skepticism is justified. Most chronically struggling schools haven’t improved much despite lots of pressure, grant funding, and outside help. Pollyannaism when it comes to chronically low-performing schools is clearly out of line. On the other hand, success stories do exist. Our colleagues documented five in this brief from the Center on Innovation and Improvement earlier this year; Mastery Charter Schools is making a name for itself by achieving strong results with fresh starts in Philadelphia; the Academy of Urban School Leadership has some promising results operating turnaround schools in Chicago, and just received nearly $3 million in federal funding for the teacher residency program that powers its classrooms. The Dept. of Ed. is making other grants like this one to turn up more examples of dramatic improvement in failing schools and learn what’s working.
So it turns out that neither utter skeptics nor Pollyannas are on the mark here. Just like in other sectors, efforts to fix chronic failures won’t usually work, but they will work sometimes. If we don’t try at all to fix failing schools, our success rate will be 0%. If we try once in each school and then let the efforts drag on for years regardless of results, we’ll see 20-30% success rates (if we’re lucky). If we want to reach the 60-80% range, there’s only one way, and that’s spotting failure early and rapidly retrying.
—Guestbloggers Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel