Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Principal George Wood: How to really turn a school around

George was yesterday's guest on Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet. Thanks to Valerie for taking risks and giving voice to the real school reformers and educators.

Here's what they DIDN'T do at Federal Hocking High School:
...we did not do all the stuff that the new ‘reformers’ think is vital to improve our schools. We did not fire the staff, eliminate tenure, or pay teachers based on student test scores. We did not become a charter school. We did not take away control from a locally elected school board and give it to a mayor. We did not bring in a bunch of two-year short-term teachers.
 Here's what they DID do:
At our school we rely on weekly if not daily staff development activities, school wide learning strategies, and staff evaluation focused on improving instruction and cultivating the leadership skills of teachers to help and coach their colleagues. There is no incentive linking pay to performance or threats of termination; rather we rely on collaboration and the collective wisdom of the teaching staff to improve student achievement.


  1. I'm confused. How is this high school a "turnaround" school? I'm interested in more detail about the data before and after the turnaround work before accepting it as a model for what should be done for other schools. The data on the state's school report card and Great Schools suggests that it is a fairly typical high school with unremarkable data that has not changed dramatically over time. Am I missing something here? Also if there was dramatic improvement, how long should it take? 5, 10 or 18 yrs? Van Schoales

  2. Yes Van, you are confused and yes you are "missing something." At least there's 2 things about which we agree. Your pejoratives re. Federal Hocking give you away, ie. "unremarkable", "has not changed dramatically", "fairly typical high school."

    George Wood doesn't call Federal Hocking a "turnaround school." I think in part because he is rejecting both the language (your language) and the whole top-down, crisis-driven approach to school improvement taken by the business reformers and currently in flavor at Arne Duncan's DOE. As George laments, "reading the popular press, and listening to the chatter from Washington, I have just found out that we are not part of the movement to ‘reform’ schools."

    Your comment only reinforces this distorted notion of "reform" and "turnaround."

    Federal Hocking H.S. is a predominantly working class school in the Appalachian foothills of Southeastern Ohio. It's a school that has made steady improvement over the past 2 decades.

    This could & should be the goal of all schools and George's approach, while not offered as "the model" gives schools everywhere, something to learn from and think about.

    For more about Federal Hocking follow this link:

    George also serves along with Deb Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Pedro Noguera, as a leader of the Forum for Education and Democracy. He is the author of several books, including Schools That Work and A Time To Learn.

    You might benefit from reading either or both, Van.

  3. I agree that it is helpful to look closely at all of these school improvement efforts. My comments about the school's quality were based on whatever data I could find on the net. I'd be happy to admit a mistake. I'm still having a hard time understanding what's happened there over the last two decades and by the way that's a long time for the current group of kids to wait. I think it would be very helpful to get some clarity on what's a good school and how you would know it. And i realize there is and should be a variety of opinions on this but I'm guessing we probably can agree on what's not acceptable,ie most kids can't read, low student engagement, violence etc. I still don't know what improvement means at Federal Hocking? It sure would help in the discussions and debates about school reform. What kinds of data do you think we should use to determine school quality? For the record, I do think that many of the school practices that George and the others leading the Forum for Education and Democracy make sense, I part ways on some of their district, state and federal policy suggestions.

  4. Yes, there is a huge problem with labeling schools as "turnaround" schools. Lots of false assumptions underneath. One is that there's some magic weapon for "radical" improvement without touching the outside-of-school conditions of poverty, unemployment, community health, and racism.

    Maybe we should really turn things on their head and bring top educators into our failed corporate economy to help turn-around miserably-failed business enterprises like BP OIL or AIG instead of them turning our schools around.

  5. Van,
    If you're so concerned about data, where's the data showing the success of mass teacher firings or of merit pay, or of mayoral control, or...

  6. Well there is some data about all of these topics if you are really interested Anonymous...send me a note at and I'd be happy to point you to some research. Vanderbuilt has a great research center on teacher compensation if interested.

    I agree with Sully there are limitations to what you can apply from business to education but I wonder if he thinks the schools don't need to be turned around.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.