A study of more than 2,000 failing schools in 10 states over five years released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute shows that such low-performing schools are rarely closed or significantly reorganized by the local education authority. The general conclusion applied to both neighborhood and charter schools (although 19% of the charter schools were closed vs only 11% of the traditional schools). Actual "turnarounds" of low-performing schools were so rare as to be almost meaningless (only 0-2% across the 10 states in the study).
Why was improvement so difficult? Well, the main factor was an absence of alternatives for the impacted students. (When you promote a monopoly for years and years, and do everything in your power to undermine alternatives, it's not surprising that your customers then have few choices when your delivery model fails. Some urban families cannot take their children 3-5 miles away to school every morning, and if their goal is a high-performing school, they would first have to obtain a place in such a desirable school — not always possible.) Also, there was an absence of competent leaders to take over the failing schools, and generally a feeling that little could be done. (After all, how would a monopoly district know how to change?)
And let's not forget that although No Child Left Behind "requires" failing schools to be subject to various remediation measures after several years of no progress and repeated warnings (the options being a "school improvement program", staff changes, and/or closure), in fact there is no way to force districts to follow the law. Lack of "teeth" in much "reform" legislation is one reason why schools don't change. They don't face any real penalties if the local district, which presided over the failure, decides not to impose consequences on the failing school. So much for the "accountability" that is supposedly making the lives of educators so difficult.
The Fordham study calls those failing schools "immortal". Maybe we should call them "immoral" as well.
The study looked at CA, AZ, FL, MI, MN, PA, NC, OH, TX, WI. You can dowload the data for just a single state.
Do you have low-performing schools in your district that defy improvement year after year? How "accountable" has your district been to those students?