Turnaround Schools
Turning Around Low-Performing Schools

Turning around low performing schools is obviously a critical issue in K-12 improvement. After a career spent doing this in private sector organizations, one of our founders definitely appreciate how hard this can be. In fact, most turnarounds fail. Unfortunately, there are no silver bullet solutions. We like to say that every successful turnaround involves a disciplined approach to "experimenting your way to success", which usually involves a series of steps both forward and backward. We also recognized that some organizations are, quite honestly, too far along the path to failure to save, and need to be sold or wound-up.

What causes an organization to reach this point? At one level, the cause is clear -- running out of cash, due to having irretrievably lost the confidence of customers, suppliers, and/or lenders. At a deeper level lie the factors that caused this loss of confidence, such as adverse changes to a company's right to operate (e.g., due to regulatory problems), the size of its market, its competitive advantage, or the profitability of its business model Yet at the deepest level, the root cause is almost always some type of organizational failure that could not be overcome. Cultures, as we’ve seen time and again, are very hard to change, and sometimes can be so dysfunctional that they are ultimately lethal.

Based on this experience, we admit to being very curious about the approaches that others are taking to the challenge of low performing schools, and the research that examines their successes and failures.

Here and here are two cautionary articles about the difficulty of executing successful school turnarounds.

Here is an excellent new report that shows how students academic achievement results benefit from closing failing schools. And here is an editorial on that report.

Take a look at this recent report from A+ Denver/CO Democrats for Education Reform, which we found to be an excellent overview of Colorado's approach to identifying and turning around poorly performing schools.

As anyone who has experienced one will tell you, leadership is the key to successful turnarounds. Read this report from the DK Foundation on the leadership challenge in Colorado's turnaround schools.

Here, here, and here are three other excellent reports on school turnaround leadership.

The Center for American Progress recently published an excellent meta-analysis of the highest quality research on successful turnarounds. It provides a very useful benchmark for assessing school plans.

The Center for Reinventing Public Education has also published a new report (November 2016) on state-driven school turnarounds.

Here is an excellent research paper from Harvard on the impact of using charter-school best practices in public schools.