It looks like the US Department of Education is getting serious about making significant changes in schools – such as those we examined in our recent report on Kentucky’s No Child Left Behind Tier 5 schools – that chronically fail to improve.
The August 26, 2009 Federal Register has a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) item titled “School Improvement Grants–American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.”
This discusses rules for federal school improvement grants targeted at schools like those examined in our Tier 5 report.
There is a catch in the NPRM. In our report, we found that Kentucky’s promise to institute new governance in the state’s most severely failing schools wasn’t kept. Despite six or more years of failure, Kentucky isn’t changing governance in these bottom-performing schools.
Now, if Kentucky wants to get some federal money to help turn those schools around, it is going to have to make good on that broken promise on governance changes.
The NPRM lists one of four options for school improvement. A state must chose one to get the cash. These options are listed near the beginning of the NPRM as:
1) Turnaround model, which would include, among other actions, replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of the school’s staff, adopting a new governance structure, and implementing a new or revised instructional program.
2) Restart model, in which an LEA would close the school and reopen it under the management of a charter school operator, a charter management organization (CMO), or an educational management organization (EMO) that has been selected through a rigorous review process.
3) School closure, in which an LEA would close the school and enroll the students who attended the school in other, high-achieving schools in the LEA.
4) Transformation model, which would address four specific areas critical to transforming the lowest-achieving schools.
The requirement for governance changes is obvious in Options 1 to 3.
The requirement in Option 4 isn’t apparent in the brief description. You cannot see that the fourth option also requires governance changes until you read pages 43109 and 43110 in the Federal Register. Those pages list in detail the very specific set of requirements a “Local Education Agency” (LEA) (which is the local board of education in most cases) must follow to qualify for the federal money. It is clear under Option 4 that each LEA is required to,
“(2) Identify and reward school leaders, teachers, and other staff who improve student achievement outcomes and identify and remove those who do not; and
(3) Replace the principal who led the school prior to commencement of the transformation model.”
So, if the NPRM is adopted pretty much as currently proposed, regardless of which option it selects, Kentucky will have to make fundamental changes to the state’s current method of handling its lowest performing schools to qualify for the federal funds involved. Specifically, the state is going to have to finally change the leadership system in those schools.
Of course, Kentucky’s already broken promise to make governance changes – extensively discussed in the new Bluegrass Institute report on NCLB Tier 5 schools – could very well prevent us from qualifying for this new federal money. Our senior state educators are going to have to make some very serious changes in their own ways of doing business to recover from their past actions.
In any event, at some point, in the best interests of our students, Kentucky simply must address hard decisions concerning school staff in chronically under-performing schools.
That’s not just my opinion – it is clear that federal educators also agree.