Turnaround Principles in NCLB Waivers

Every waiver state must designate at least five percent of its lowest-performing and slowest-progressing Title I schools as “priority” schools to undergo a three-year intervention designed to turnaround the school.

These interventions must align with key turnaround principles that are selected with family and community input, including:

  1. Strong leadership. Districts must review the current principal’s performance to determine if he/she has a “track record in improving achievement and has the ability to lead the turnaround effort.” If not, then a new principal must be selected. Principals must receive operational flexibility regarding scheduling, staff, curriculum, and budget to oversee the turnaround.
  2. Quality teaching. Districts must review the quality of the current teaching staff to ensure that only those who are effective and able to participate successfully in the turnaround effort remain. In turn, the district must ensure that ineffective teachers are not transferred to the school. Job-embedded training informed by regular teacher evaluations needs to be provided to address ongoing staff development needs.
  3. Extended learning time. Priority schools must redesign their school day, week, or year to increase time for student learning and staff collaboration.
  4. Curriculum and instruction. Priority schools must implement a research-based, rigorous curriculum aligned with the states’ college- and career-ready standards.
  5. Use of data. Priority schools must use data collaboratively to drive instruction and continuous improvement.
  6. School climate. Priority schools must work to establish a safe school environment and address non-academic factors that influence student learning.
  7. Engagement. Priority schools must engage regularly with families and the community.

States or districts can design their own turnaround models for priority schools that meet these principles or use one of the models included in the federal SIG program (e.g. transformation, turnaround, restart, closure). Under the waiver guidance, states can also take over “priority” schools and operate them directly or through a statewide entity, like a recovery school district. Several states, including Louisiana, Michigan, and Tennessee, have created a version of a recovery school district at the state-level, with broad authority to reimagine the structure and governance of low-performing schools’ under its purview.1Education leaders and advocates in other states have expressed interest in developing an RSD, or expanding existing state takeover laws to give officials the authority to take more drastic steps to turnaround low-performing schools.

  1. Andy Smarick, “The Recovery School District,” Education Next, April 26, 2013, accessed February 10, 2015, http://educationnext.org/the-recovery-school-district/ .
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