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NCLB: In Praise Of NCLB's "Other" Option

From Guest Contributor Cheryl Sattler:

Edited_sattler_photo_10072 There’s been a lot of criticism of the fact that most schools choose the “other” option for restructuring under No Child Left Behind. The Center on Education Policy calls this “the path of least resistance,” while Hoover asks if this is “taking the easy way out.”

The implication is that schools are dodging “real” reform. Based on these analyses, some advocates have begun pushing Congress to eliminate the “other” option entirely.

But if the current named options were the only ones on the table, it is likely that even less change would occur.  Charter schools require a group outside the district to be sufficiently invested in a school (and capable of not only educational change, but finance, food service, transportation, etc.) to take a school over.  They can’t be imposed by a district.    Replacing all or most of the school staff isn’t just a union nightmare. It’s a timing and capacity nightmare as well. Districts hire in early spring but don’t find out if they’ll have to restructure until the late summer.  Capable people aren't necessarily ready and willing to jump on board. State takeovers aren't even allowed in most states, and how realistic is it to expect a bunch of bureaucrats, miles away, to run schools?

Only the fourth option, use of education management organizations, deserves more of a shot than it's been given.  Districts don’t want to give up control, and states don’t want it, either.  But states could certainly make an effort to move control from a school district to a management organization of some kind. -- Cheryl Sattler

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The reality is that most of what goes into meaningful "restructuring" ought to have been a part of the improvement process that is mandated years earlier than the final year in which "other" is an option. "Other" ought to be the most frequent choice--but this assumes that schools have diligently sought out means of improvement in some of the 5-7 years prior and that these are solidly in place and beginning to bear fruit. What appears far too frequently to have been the case--in these multiple time losers--is that either the district or building, or both, has failed to take improvement seriously and has been waiting out the clock hoping for a better deal. There may have been a failure to stabilize leadership (revolving door principals), or leadership was content to see a paper plan with no connection to actual changes, or evaluation. Or the critical mass of teachers has counted the days to retirement and plan to continue as begun and then leave.

The genius of requiring parent involvement in the improvement process (and why it is too bad that so many schools have gotten away with ignoring it altogether), is that it requires schools to face their primary constitutency and tell them where the problems are, what they are doing about it, what they expect will happen and how long they expect it will take. I suspect that most parents are not going to demand the wholesale firing of the teaching or administrative staff--but they do expect to see an honest attempt at problem solving.

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