New Report on Turning Around Low-Performing Schools

February 9, 2012

Four years after undergoing dramatic reform efforts such as turnaround, very low-performing elementary schools in Chicago closed the gap in test scores with the system average by almost half in reading and two-thirds in math, according to a new study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Turnaround, a reform strategy for chronically low-performing schools promoted by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, involves replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of the school’s staff. In February, the Chicago School Board voted to "turn around" 10 struggling schools.

The turnaround improvements took time to develop; test scores were not significantly better in the first year of reform, but grew larger over time.

The study examined five different reform models initiated by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 36 elementary and high schools identified as chronically low performing. The five reform models were: Reconstitution (seven high schools); School Closure and Restart (six elementary schools, two high schools); School Turnaround Specialist Program (four elementary schools); Academy for Urban School Leadership (10 elementary schools, two high schools); and Office of School Improvement (two elementary schools, three high schools). Each is consistent with one of the four improvement models recommended by the federal government (turnaround, transformation, restart, and school closure).

Despite the attention and activity surrounding the models, there is a lack of research on whether or how they work. To begin to address this knowledge gap, CCSR and AIR partnered to examine dramatic interventions in Chicago, an early adopter of such reforms.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • High schools that underwent reform did not show significant improvements in absences or ninth grade on-track-to-graduate rates over matched comparison schools, but recent high school efforts look more promising than earlier ones.
  • Schools that underwent these reforms and remained neighborhood schools generally served the same students, and the same types of students, as before intervention.  Schools that were closed and replaced with charter or contract schools generally served more advantaged students after intervention.
  • The teacher workforce after intervention across all models was more likely to be white, younger, and less experienced.

Read the full report now >>