School Turnarounds Are Succeeding

Secretary Duncan at the Grad Nation Summit

Portland, Ore., Public Schools Superintendent, Carole Smith, DC Public School teacher Mrs. Rose Smith, and DC Public Schools student Daquan Burley join Arne for a panel at the Grad Nation Summit. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

America cannot keep the promise a quality education to every child without ending the cycle of failure in our chronically low-performing schools.

From the early days of the Obama Administration, the President and Secretary Duncan explained that the country could not continue the status quo, with the idea that some schools are merely destined to fail.

“We could not continue to tinker,” Duncan explained earlier today at the Building a Grad Nation Summit in Washington. “[The President] and I believe that dramatic change is needed in low-performing schools.”

The President and Duncan worked with Congress in 2009 to make an unprecedented investment in turning around low-performing schools.

Through ED’s School Improvement Grants (SIG), the Administration dedicated more than $4 billion dollars, that has reached over 1,200 schools. The goal of SIG is to accelerate achievement in our nation’s lowest-performing five percent of schools. The federal grants from ED are just one element in addressing a challenge that requires input and support from school leaders, teachers, unions, and local partners in the community.

Secretary Duncan announced this morning that the preliminary SIG data shows that the program is producing impressive gains in learning.

In year one under the new SIG:

    • Nearly one in four schools saw double digit increases in math proficiency.
    • Roughly one in five schools had double-digit increases in reading proficiency.
    • In nearly 60 percent of SIG schools, the percent of students who were proficient in math or reading went up in the first year.

Duncan noted that the positive results are from the first year of data, and that it will take several years of data to confirm that SIG is making a lasting improvement in academic achievement.

“At the heart of all these successes,” Duncan explained, “are teachers and school leaders who are excited about the prospect of change.” Before joining a panel at the Summit, Duncan closed by reminded those in attendance that, “Children only get one chance at an education,” and that there isn’t time to wait for reform to happen.

More info:


  1. Where’s the data??? The claim that double-digit improvement is being experienced in “reading proficiency” by one in five SIG schools is unlikely. “Proficiency” is a specific level of reading ability that has NOT been achieved through the methods promoted by the U.S. Department of Education. The Reading First Impact Study Final Report documents that Reading First produced NO improvement at all in the ability of children to understand text (comprehension). None. Comprehension is fundamental for proficiency to be achieved. What the U.S. Department of Education likely meant is that one in five SIG schools have improved in the “basic” reading level…which is showing an insidious inability to produce higher level reading ability (proficiency). Please–present the data and prove that the reference to “reading proficiency” is correct. If I’m correct, PLEASE get busy telling schools the truth about Reading First.

  2. I am in the second year teaching math at one of the traditional lowest performing school on an Indian reservation. The amount of work and documentation required by both faculty and administration is HUGE. Burnout is accelerated. SIG funds are reduced each year and limited to three. The program is suppose to “set things straight” and then schools are suppose to continue implementing the research based practices on their own. Assessment is huge! Compliance and keeping to timelines is mandatory. My Principal from year one was replaced a few months into this year for less than desired results. The biggest obstical I see from my prospective: Many of the lowest, furtherest behind students(3-4 grade levels) have accepted failure similar to an athletic team in a losing streak. Changing that mentality is multifauceted and requires a unified consistent “war” by every employee of the school to battle. The solution to this problem revolves aroundto me is two fold. Changing the motivation or desire of the students and restructuring educational requirements to better fit students’ needs/goals/aptitudes. Different curriculum for CTE and Medically minded students.

  3. Why is the data not being supplied to support these statistics that are being given to the public? Statistics are wonderful, if you know what they represent. One funny thing is that all the different schools are being tested by different tests, so do we really know what is happening? Even with the PARCC coming out, not all states are doing the same assessment. This makes absolutely no sense, but I am sure people will be giving statistics about performance even though the tests for will be different depending on where the student lives.

  4. We aren’t buying what you are selling. Students should have equity and access to all that a sound, quality public education has to offer; a love of learning, the freedom to imagine and the resources to design their own futures. Models of school improvement that point the finger at a school community and say, “you are a failure. we will not help you. we will shut you down.” arent’ turning anything around-the kids are the same kids- the protocol is to shuffle the teachers and the administration and proclaim “a new school, a new beginning.” Turnaround, the one model of school improvement that doesn’t require evaluation data is the easiest to put into place and tout that it works. It’s not a research based model-it’s a model that was created to meet the needs of governement and finance so that fiscally responsible success can be advertised.

  5. Further evidence that No Child Left Behind has been the most successful program to enter the school system.

  6. Having participated in a “turn around” our school district designed and implemented, I know there are more than just test scores needed to signify change. What about parent participation, discipline reports (students suspended or sitting in detention aren’t learning), homework completion, mobility rates (students moving in and out of schools have disrupted learning), just to name a few important areas.
    If the testing is based on state testing which was designed in response to No Child Left Behind, shame on them. We have much more accurate ways to measure achievement.

    • Becky,

      Thanks for your comment and raising a good point. Secretary Duncan also talked about this in his speech this morning. He said “We are also continuing to gather data on other critical outcomes that matter to assessing student progress, like changes in graduation rates, dropout rates, discipline, attendance, and other indices.”

      Cameron Brenchley
      Office of Communications and Outreach

      • March 20, 2012 – Washington (AP) Headline: Report:Nation’s security, economic prosperity at risk if nation’s schools don’t improve

        No significant improvement will result in schools until family values and function is addressed. This must start in the new generation by future parents educated to be parents preferably by the school system. Becky is right on.

  7. What evidence does the Department have other than reading and math test scores as to the effectiveness of these turnarounds? At what price to the students have these gains come (less physical activity, less art or music, less emphasis on science or social studies, increased stress or stress-related behaviors)?

    • Great question. The amount of psychological services needed for 11 to 18 year olds and beyond, in response to the new pressures, are astounding.

Comments are closed.