What To Do About Schools That Don't Get Better? How About...

A few months ago I wrote something about an article I'd read showing that, since problems like chronic homelessness weren't distributed evenly, neither should the policies and programs to help them (Power Curve Problems, Bell Curve Solutions). Lo and behold, this week the NYT has a piece suggesting the success of just such an approach.

Can we do the same thing for persistently low performing schools?

The NYT story (New Campaign Shows Progress for Homeless) finds that giving the chronically homeless their own apartments (a policy called "housing first") is proving to be a big breakthrough that came from the realization that most folks are only homeless transitionally, and that the persistently homeless end up costing a lot in emergency care among other things.

If the education version of the chronically homeless is the persistently low-performing school, then, it seems to me, educators shouldn't wring their hands about how many schools there are in NCLB restructuring (3 percent of the nation's schools, someone told me), or even worry that much about the vast majority of schools that are. The focus should be only on the hardest of the hard cases, whatever the law says.

Hopefully the solutions will be as creative and effective as giving a homeless man a home, and politics will allow for differentiated interventions. My ideas are no great shakes, but how about letting someone else run the schools, as is being proposed in Texas? Or how about doing what Chicago does and closing a handful of nonresponsive schools every year? It's difficult but seems necessary. And in the meantime, how about doing right by the kids at those bottom 10 percent schools and giving them first dibs, not last, on access to the best teachers or transferring to a better school in the district or the one next door?


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