Enduring Myths That Inhibit School Turnaround

Edited by:
Coby Meyers, University of Virginia
Marlene Darwin, American Institutes for Research

A volume in the series: Contemporary Perspectives on School Turnaround and Reform. Editor(s): Coby Meyers, University of Virginia. Marlene Darwin, American Institutes for Research.

Published 2017

The concept of school turnaround—rapidly improving schools and increasing student achievement outcomes in a short period of time—has become politicized despite the relative newness of the idea. Unprecedented funding levels for school improvement combined with few examples of schools substantially increasing student achievement outcomes has resulted in doubt about whether or not turnaround is achievable. Skeptics have enumerated a number of reasons to abandon school turnaround at this early juncture. This book is the first in a new series on school turnaround and reform intended to spur ongoing dialogue among and between researchers, policymakers, and practitioners on improving the lowest-performing schools and the systems in which they operate. The “turnaround challenge” remains salient regardless of what we call it. We must improve the nation’s lowest-performing schools for many moral, social, and economic reasons.

In this first book, education researchers and scholars have identified a number of myths that have inhibited our ability to successfully turn schools around. Our intention is not to suggest that if these myths are addressed school turnaround will always be achieved. Business and other literatures outside of education make it clear that turnaround is, at best, difficult work. However, for a number of reasons, we in education have developed policies and practices that are often antithetical to turnaround. Indeed, we are making already challenging work harder. The myths identified in this book suggest that we still struggle to define or understand what we mean by turnaround or how best, or even adequately, measure whether it has been achieved. Moreover, it is clear that there are a number of factors limiting how effectively we structure and support low-performing schools both systemically and locally. And we have done a rather poor job of effectively leveraging human resources to raise student achievement and improve organizational outcomes.

We anticipate this book having wide appeal for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners in consideration of how to support these schools taking into account context, root causes of low-performance, and the complex work to ensure their opportunity to be successful. Too frequently we have expected these schools to turn themselves around while failing to assist them with the vision and supports to realize meaningful, lasting organizational change. The myths identified and debunked in this book potentially illustrate a way forward.

Introduction: Debunking School Turnaround Myths, Coby V. Meyers and Marlene Darwin. SECTION I: HOW CAN THE SCHOOL TURNAROUND CONVERSATION BE FRAMED DIFFERENTLY? The Failure Fallacy: Examining the Rate of School Turnaround, Craig Hochbein and Abby Mahone. Understanding Decline and Failure Is Foundational to Moving Forward, Coby V. Meyers, Craig Hochbein, Mark Smylie, Samuel Stringfield, and Marc Stein. Neither Urban Core Nor Rural Fringe: “In-Between” Districts and the Shifting Landscape of School Performance in the United States, David Eddy-Spicer, Erin Anderson, and Frank Perrone. SECTION II: HOW ARE SCHOOL TURNAROUND EFFORTS STRUCTURED AND SUPPORTED SYSTEMICALLY? The Myth of the Single Lever Turnaround, Sam Stringfield, Eugene Schaffer, and David Reynolds. Everything But the Kitchen Sink: How an Abundance of Concurrent Efforts Thwarts School Improvement, Kerstin Carlson Le Floch, Aaron Butler, and Catherine Barbour. Reframing Turnaround: From a School Initiative to a System Initiative, Caitlin Scott, Lenay Dunn, and Carlas McCauley. Unfinished Business: State Education Agencies and Their Capacity to Lead School Turnaround, Joshua Childs. SECTION III: HOW ARE SCHOOL TURNAROUND EFFORTS STRUCTURED AND SUPPORTED LOCALLY? Autonomy and Accountability in Turnaround Work: The Myth of Portfolio Districts and Organizational Learning, Laura Groth, Matthew Malone, and Joshua L. Glazer. Assessing School Turnarounds: Using an Integrative Framework to Identify Levers for Success, Kirsten Lee Hill, Laura Desimone, Tonya Wolford, and Adrienne Reitano. Moving Beyond the Myths of Turnaround to Address the Intersection of Poverty and Urban Schooling, Kecia Hayes, Angela Fulcher, Catherine Hogg, Michael Ramsey, and Danielle Proscia. Turning Around From Within: Using Internal Capacity to Improve Low-Performing Schools, Adriana Villavicencio. SECTION IV: WHO CAN PROPEL SCHOOL TURNAROUND FORWARD? An Enduring Myth: Turnaround Leadership Is Identity Neutral, Jennie M. Weiner and Laura Burton. Should They Stay or Should They Go? The Mythical Appeal of Staff Replacement As a Turnaround Strategy, Elizabeth Mann, Rebecca Herman, and Michael Hansen. SECTION V: HOW IS SCHOOL TURNAROUND CONCEPTUALIZED AND/OR MEASURED? Turnaround As Faustian Bargain: The Myth of Virtuous Action, Kimberly Kappler Hewitt and Ulrich Reitzug. The Fallacy of School Grades: Exploring the Myth That Public Shaming Leads to School Improvement, Robert Smith and Scott Imig. School Turnarounds and the Test of Time, Dallas Hambrick Hitt and Coby V. Meyers. Changing the School Turnaround Conversation, Marlene Darwin and Coby V. Meyers. About the Editors.