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Thursday, January 7, 2010

One positive turnaround alternative

The lead story in the Jan. 6 Edweek ("Focus on Instruction Turns Schools Around") examines an alternative to the punitive assaults on low-performing or struggling schools, being pushed under Race To The Top.

Strategic Learning Initiatives is a Chicago-based staff development and support group who's approach includes helping teams of teachers develop sound instructional strategies. SLI is one of many such organizations that grew out of the early Chicago school-reform movement. It's program aims to empower teachers rather than blame them for low student test scores or use test score-based merit pay as a material incentive.

Results have been impressive, especially when compared with the dismal results of school closings and re-opening as privately-managed charter schools under the Mayor's Renaissance 2010 plan.

Writes Edweek's Dakarai Aarons:

What Strategic Learning did with the struggling schools, says its chief executive officer, John Simmons, was “not rocket science.” But it worked, according to an evaluationRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader by the Washington-based American Institutes for Research. And the approach the group took offers some lessons as states and districts confront the need to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

“The results that SLI has achieved, and that AIR has validated, are very impressive and suggest that well before decisions are made to reconstitute schools under the mandates of [the federal No Child Left Behind Act], school districts would be wise to consider far less drastic, but clearly powerful, interventions such as the Focused Instruction Process,” wrote AIR analysts Steven Leinwand and Sarah Edwards in their July evaluation.

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