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Two years after Congress scrapped federal formulas for fixing troubled schools, states for the most part are producing only the vaguest of plans to address persistent educational failure.
So far, 16 states and the District of Columbia have submitted proposals for holding schools accountable under the 2015 law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. With few exceptions, the blueprints offer none of the detailed prescriptions for intervention, such as mass teacher firings or charter-school conversions, that were once standard elements of school reform.
Many in the education world, from state superintendents to teachers unions, applaud this hands-off trend. Each struggling school faces unique circumstances, in their view, and deserves a tailored solution shaped by community input — not a top-down directive from far away bureaucrats.
“We don’t know what to do about chronically low-performing schools. Nothing has worked consistently and at scale,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “I suspect we’ll see most states and districts just go through the motions.”
The worst-off schools will be taken over by the state and managed by a charter school operator, while less-needy schools could become a part of a district’s “innovation zone,” which allows schools to extend classroom time, pay teachers more and give principals more autonomy in an effort to improve achievement.
John King Jr., who was Obama’s second education secretary and now heads the advocacy group Education Trust, said the question of what to do with troubled schools deserves more attention from states and the Trump administration.
King said he hopes states will draw on promising strategies for school improvement, such as looking for ways to boost socioeconomic diversity. And he hopes they will learn from places that have managed to succeed in the hard work of school turnaround. King cited Lawrence, Mass., where schools have made tremendous gains since they were placed in state receivership six years ago.