In speaking to reporters on a 25-minute conference call Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the No Child Left Behind Act failed to produce the radical changes necessary to improve the nation’s lowest-performing schools. He intends to change that with an aggressive $3.5 billion school improvement aid plan that demands striking changes.
Duncan said the federal government was determined to raise the “bottom on the bottom,” the 5,000 lowest performing schools in the nation, half of which were urban, 30 percent were rural and 20 percent were suburban.
“In those schools, tinkering around the edges is not sufficient,” Duncan said. “Those children are being poorly served in chronically underachieving schools and marginal incremental change is not the answer.”
Under his plan, systems must discard scalpels and take chainsaws to failing schools. Systems can close them, restaff them and reopen them under new leadership or as charters. They can shutter the schools and transfer students elsewhere. Or they can make deep, “transformative” changes, including replacing the leadership, adopting comprehensive reforms including performance pay for teachers and extending learning time.
During his time as CEO of Chicago schools, Duncan said he realized dramatic school improvements by adopting the turnaround model, which calls for replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of the school’s staff. “We replace leaders, we replace teachers. Adults will leave and children will stay,” he said.
“We have to educate our way to a better economy,” Duncan said. “All of our schools need to get better. And it has to happen now with a real sense of urgency. We are providing unprecedented resources. We expect unprecedented results.”
What do you think? Is the Duncan plan simply a new name for old reforms that will produce the same disappointing results?
Or, is his plan for major shakeups at lagging schools the way to breath new life and new ambitions into moribund institutions? See details of the plan here.