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ERIC Number: ED498798
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2003-Jan
Pages: 60
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
Can Failing Schools Be Fixed?
Brady, Ronald C.
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requires states and school districts to act aggressively to turn around failing schools. NCLB lists 31 different interventions of varying degrees of severity that are available to state and local policymakers when faced with schools whose students fail to make sufficient academic progress and sets forth a sequence by which various of those interventions are to be put into practice. Yet NCLB's accountability systems and intervention tactics are not brand new. As of August 2002, 38 states already had some form of accountability system for schools, and since 1989 at least 30 jurisdictions across 22 states have sought to intervene in failing schools. Such well-intended efforts begin with a paradox. Much is known about how effective schools work, but it is far less clear how to move an ineffective school from failure to success. This report describes twenty different kinds of interventions into failing schools, seventeen of which have already been tried. It provides examples of where they have been attempted. These range from simple identification of failing schools, to technical assistance for school staff, to longer school days or years, to replacement of the principal, to closing down the school or having the state take over the entire district. While the milder interventions have often been tried, examples of the more intrusive reforms are rare. The report examines three interventions in detail: the Schools Under Registration Review process in New York, comprehensive school reform in Memphis, Tennessee, and school reconstitution in Prince George's County, Maryland. In each of those cases, roughly half or fewer of the schools that were subject to the intervention showed real improvement when gauged in terms of pupil achievement. Several lessons can be drawn from America's previous experience with state and district-level interventions into failing schools: (1) Many decision-makers are more inclined to accept failing schools than to intervene; (2) Some turnaround efforts have improved some schools, but success is not the norm; (3) No particular intervention appears more successful than any other; (4) Interventions are uneven in their implementation and difficult to sustain; (5) It is nearly impossible to determine which interventions offer the most bang for the buck because they are attempted in very different situations; and (6) School leadership is a common thread in most successful turnarounds. Policymakers faced with failing schools should not be paralyzed by the number of intervention strategies that may lie at their disposal. Rather, they should know that the specific strategy they select is less important than the right mix of people, energy, and timing. They should also resist passing quick judgment: it may be several years before even a successful intervention shows results. No Child Left Behind may expect too much too fast. Because even the strongest interventions specified in No Child Left Behind are not likely to turn some schools around, policymakers need to consider other options for children in such places. Two appendixes are included: (1) Interventions Mandates in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001; and (2) The Intervention Experience. (Contains 160 endnotes and 2 tables.)
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation & Institute. 1701 K Street NW Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20006. Tel: 202-223-5452; Fax: 202-223-9226; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, Washington, DC.
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Elementary and Secondary Education Act; No Child Left Behind Act 2001
IES Cited: ED497790