Can a low-performing school actually be turned around? A new article in Education Next suggests that instead of trying to fix failing schools, policymakers should close them and allow them to start over.

The author gives several compelling examples of how the best of intentions have not led to better schools. In California, the state targeted the lowest-performing schools for intervention. Three years later, only 11% of those schools made exemplary progress (109 of 968 schools). Ohio recently restructured 52 failing schools and few have met academic goals.

Several studies found similar results. The Center on Education Policy found that less than 15% of schools being restructured in California, Maryland, and Ohio made federal academic goals set by No Child Left Behind (adequate yearly progress). A 2005 report by the Education Commission of the States says that school takeovers “have yet to produce dramatic consistent increases in student performance.”

Thus, there are no best practices on how to improve a persistently failing schools. In fact, the successful charter school network KIPP attempted to turnaround schools and abandoned the effort after only two years.

If the evidence does not point to success, why do school leaders and policymakers continue to push for restructuring a school versus just shutting it down and starting anew? Politics.

It is very hard politically for a school superintendent or a politician to tell their constituents that a school in their community is so bad it is beyond fixing. They take a risk of angering their constituents who may have emotional ties to the school. So, in most cases, it is easier to come up with a list of action items to improve the school versus allowing the school to face the consequences of its mediocre performance and get shut down.

Often ignored in this debate is the best interest of students. Is it in the best interest of the student and their future if they are stuck attending a low-performing schools for several years? Wouldn’t they be better served if they could attend a high-quality school down the street?

Let’s look at the facts and invest our time and resources in what works instead of continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

– Brooke Terry