Reform Decisions Echo NEA Approach to School Improvement

By Kevin Hart

Fire the teachers.

That’s become the mantra of many self-proclaimed education reformers, who have tried to blame dedicated teachers for the litany of problems faced at lower-performing priority schools.

But as the federal School Improvement Grants process gives lower-performing schools unprecedented ability to fire staff, the overwhelming majority of school districts are not taking that step. Instead, they are opting for a reform model advocated by the National Education Association, known as “transformation.”

In fact, of schools so far slated to receive SIG funds, roughly 8 of every 10 have selected the transformation model. Of the schools that have selected another model, known as “turnaround” and requiring the firing of the principal and half the staff, many are not actually firing educators, but are simply transferring them to other schools in order to meet SIG requirements.

Lower-performing schools receiving SIG funds must choose one of four school improvement models. In addition to transformation and turnaround, the schools can opt to “restart” by closing and reopening as a charter or under a similar management structure. Or they can close and send students to higher-achieving schools.

Transformation means implementing numerous instructional reforms, including more professional development, improved evaluation systems, and increased learning time.

The turnaround model provides school administrators with the same freedom to fire staff that “reformers” claim these administrators have been seeking for years. But the vast majority of school districts are eschewing the turnaround model and instead selecting the transformation model, which NEA was instrumental in adding to the SIG process.

These school districts are sending a powerful message that they consider educators part of the solution – not part of the problem. They are also validating a long-held NEA position that improving academic performance at lower-performing priority schools requires a focus on supporting and developing educators; building strong evaluation systems that help assess and improve student learning; and conducting aggressive outreach to parents, community groups, and other key stakeholders.

This holistic approach has been implemented successfully by many schools featured on NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign web site. Learn more about how these schools are transforming students’ lives.