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September 12, 2008

Restructuring schools try staff replacement

As Liz reports today, a new study is out by the Center on Education Policy about the schools that have restructured under No Child Left Behind. Maryland, with its recent emphasis on replacing the staff at schools required by law to restructure, is now taking among the most aggressive steps in the nation. But it's too soon to know whether the strategy is working.

Until 2006, most Maryland schools that have failed to meet targets on standardized tests for several consecutive years chose the restructuring option of hiring a "turnaround specialist," usually to work with the principal. And usually, that move didn't do much good, so the option was discontinued.

The CEP report questions the logistical challenges associated with creating school restructuring plans as more schools need them. It says that Maryland's resources are being "stretched thinly." In districts such as Baltimore and Prince George's County with lots of schools in restructuring, there's concern that plans are not being individualized for each school and staff replacement is the automatic option. Other choices include reopening as a charter school and entering into a contract with a private school management company. But as the report points out, "becoming a charter school takes about 18 months, which does not fit with the required federal restructuring timetline."

In Baltimore, the school improvement teams at all the restructuring schools chose the option of staff replacement. (These teams typically include the principal.) The city school board then signed off on the teams' recommendations and forwarded the choices to the state. Mary Minter, the city's chief academic officer, is quoted in the report saying that principals often didn't realize selecting that option meant they could be replaced as well. She said that discussion "came later on... 'You mean I can be replaced, too?' It was after the fact. I think had they known, they would not have selected that option." Dr. Alonso is also quoted about principals being in the dark about their own fates: "I find it difficult to believe that in every single case, something which should be so basic to the conversation has escaped the debate until the very end."

Now that the cat's out of the bag, what option will schools select this year?


As a member of a School Improvement Team at a school in restructuring, I find it hard to believe that those principals did not know that they too could be replaced. The wording of that option from the state explicitly states that significant changes to staffing can occur, including the replacement of the principal.

The state also put schools into a bad situation. Only 4 options existed, 2 of which were impossible to complete within the timeline. Deadlines for applications to become charter schools, or hiring an outside management company, occured extremely early. The process dictated by the state for choosing an option pushed well past the deadlines for charter schools and outside management firms.

That left schools with only 2 options, replace a significant amount of the staff, or hire a "distinguished principal". Since their were only 3 principals in the pool to choose from, the over 30 schools in restructuring were stuck.

How about replacing failing students, or failing parents?

Totally replacing staff sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, particularly in a city like Baltimore which has a difficult time attracting quality teachers as it is. If we were to "zero base" staff at all schools that needed it, there wouldn't be enough teachers to fill the spots and essentially all you would be doing is shuffling teachers from one failing school to the next. I agree with Melissa. It is a shame that we can't replace some of the failing students and parents. Let the teachers from the "Big Three" come to other schools and teach and then see what happens. Not much, I will wager.

So, let's see...parents, kids, teachers from other schools and if I recall previously it was North Ave. administrators - so many people to blame! How about spending a little of that effort in coming up with a realistic constructive idea.

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