NEPC Review: Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement: The Research on School Turnaround (Center for American Progress, March 2015)
Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement: The Research on School Turnaround advocates for implementing the most effective, research-based methods for turning around low-performing schools through the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. It argues that the available body of research points to five dramatic actions that are necessary to bring about dramatic school improvement. Unfortunately, the rationale for its assertions is narrow, incoherent, and misleading. This limitation stems from the report’s unsystematic review of literature, resulting in its failure to incorporate lessons from large bodies of research on high-stakes accountability, school improvement, and the emerging evidence on school closures and federally funded turnarounds—all of which reveal that the federal SIG program’s turnaround policies are based on unwarranted claims and are contradicted by the empirical evidence. Consequently, the report’s recommendations are unsupported by rigorous research. Like the SIG program itself, the report promotes seemingly bold school changes that appear seductive on the surface. But when compared to the real evidence on school turnarounds, their evidence-based foundation vanishes. In the end, schools, districts, and states that follow the report’s advice stand to reproduce the unequal conditions that have led, in part, to their need for dramatic turnaround in the first place.