Miami Herald: Obama pushes to turn around failing schools

Dec 8, 2009

The Miami Herald published this article on December 8, 2009

AP Education Writer

 Charles Dharapak / AP Photo President Barack Obama takes a question at the Jobs and Economic Growth Forum at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across from the White House in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009. The Obama administration will spend at least $3.5 billion to push local officials around the country to close failing schools and reopen them with new teachers and principals.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan hopes to see the 5,000 worst-performing schools, about 1 percent of all U.S. schools, turned around in five years. The administration is beefing up the federal school turnaround program, which was created under the No Child Left Behind law championed by former President George W. Bush.

“As a country, we need to get into the turnaround business,” Duncan said in a statement. “Adults need to have the courage to make these tough decisions and do right by our kids.”

The president doesn’t have the power to close and reopen schools himself. That authority rests with local school districts and states.

But federal officials have an incentive in the turnaround program, which gives money to states for school districts to overhaul the lowest-performing schools. Districts will have to compete for grants.

Applications for the money, made available Thursday to states, should result in a list of about 1,200 schools that states have targeted for turnaround, the Education Department said, adding that the eventual goal is 5,000 schools.

To get the money, a district must do one of four things:

-Fire the principal and at least half the staff and reopen the school with new personnel.

-Turn a school over to a charter school operator or other management organization.

-Close the school and send students to higher-achieving schools in the district.

-Replace only the principal and take other steps to change how the school operates.

A special focus will be on fixing middle schools and high schools, especially “dropout factories” where two in five kids don’t make it to graduation.

Duncan, a former Chicago schools chief, has experience with school turnarounds: Chicago targeted several public schools for turnaround while Duncan was still in charge.