Academic journal article Education Next

The Cure: Will NCLB's Restructuring Wonder Drug Prove Meaningless?

Academic journal article Education Next

The Cure: Will NCLB's Restructuring Wonder Drug Prove Meaningless?

Article excerpt

This past spring, the U.S. Department of Education released data showing that approximately 1,700 public schools across the country were eligible for "restructuring" under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) for 2005-06. That's up 42 percent since 2004-05, and the numbers are likely to continue to surge. After all, some 25,000 schools did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the law last year; those that miss the mark for five years running will also find themselves facing an overhaul. Assuming a steady rate of growth in the failing category, there could easily be as many as 5,000 of these schools in need of restructuring, or at least eligible for it, by 2008-09, the earliest date that most observers believe the federal law will be reauthorized.

What can be done? What should be done?

One of the greatest frustrations for reformers so far has been the government's eagerness to put these failing schools on life support rather than forcing them to radically change their ways. According to Center on Education Policy case studies in California and Michigan, officials are using an NCLB loophole, opting for superficial interventions--such as hiring improvement "coaches" or changing the curriculum--over implementing the bold reforms envisioned by the law's crafters.

Which bold reforms? Two strategies are particularly attractive: reopening these schools as charter schools, or contracting with a for-profit or nonprofit manager to run their day-to-day operations. A combination of the two could be especially powerful. Imagine a school district shuttering a failing school for a year. Meanwhile, a company such as Edison Schools or a nonprofit such as KIPP applies for a charter to run a replacement school out of that very facility. A new, effective school has been transplanted into an old, failing one.

Of course, there are numerous impediments to that sort of fresh-start approach. Districts jealously guard their facilities, even when they are underused or decaying. Teacher unions fight to block new charters, especially the vast majority that do not fall under collective bargaining. And neither the feds nor the states are forcing districts to head down this promising but politically painful road. …

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