Firing staff isn't best solution for 'failing' schools, study finds
Bloomberg News
Feb. 28, 2007

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 02.28.2007

Schools forced to reorganize because of poor performance under the U.S. No Child Left Behind law are more likely to improve if they change teaching practices rather than firing staff, according to a study in California.

The findings may pose another challenge to the Bush administration, which is asking Congress to toughen the No Child law by reducing the options for schools that fail to meet testing standards. President Bush is seeking congressional renewal of the five-year-old law this year.

Half of the California schools that kept their staffs and took steps such as hiring teaching coaches met their English-language testing targets the following year, the Washington-based Center on Education Policy said in a report released today. That compares with a 44 percent success rate among all failing schools, and 32 percent among those that replaced staff.

"The more complex changes seem to bring about better results than the simplistic changes like firing staff," said Jack Jennings, president of the group. The center is funded by donors including the Carnegie Corporation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The findings are similar to recommendations by a commission assembled by the Aspen Institute, a Washington-based policy study group, after a year of studying the No Child law.

The law's sanctions should focus "on improving instruction and learning in schools, rather than making structural changes to the management and operation of districts," the Aspen Institute commission said in final report this month.

Research on solutions for schools deemed to be failing under No Child isn't definitive because the most severe performance-improvement steps are in their early stages, Jennings said.

The Bush administration says the No Child law is a way to ensure that all grade-school students reach minimum competency levels in subjects such as math and reading by 2014.

The Bush administration, in its proposals to Congress this year, recommended that schools reaching the restructuring phase "be required either to make substantial changes in staff or to reconstitute the schools' governance structure."

local angle

Four Tucson schools have been subject to intervention in recent years because they failed to meet accountability standards.

Craycroft Elementary, 5455 E. Littletown Road, and Van Buskirk Elementary school, 725 E. Fair St., were labeled "failing" in 2004 for failing to meet state standards. A new principal was placed at Craycroft and a year later, it was promoted to "performing." Van Buskirk kept its principal but still was monitored by the Department of Education as it attempted to pull itself out of the failing category. A year later, it was labeled "performing plus."

Last year, Lawrence Intermediate School, 4850 W. Jeffrey Road, was labeled "failing" federal standards and a new principal was hired to improve the school. She began by rehiring the entire faculty and staff. Test scores in April will decide how much Lawrence has improved.

Naylor Middle School, 1701 S. Columbus Blvd., was labeled "failing" state standards in 2006. An improvement plan was agreed upon last week by state and district officials.

Arizona Daily Star