Thursday, September 2, 2010

Americans want Comprehensive Support for Struggling Schools

Last week Phi Delta Kappan and Gallup released their Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Media headlines led with a story that the public rejects President Obama’s education reform agenda. And in fact, the majority rejected the turnaround strategies offered to persistently failing schools. When asked how to improve a consistently poorly-performing school, only 17% said the school should be closed and reopened with a new principal, 13% said the school should be closed and reopened as a charter school, and 11% said the school should be closed and the students moved to a high-performing school.

The majority of the public (54%) believes that the best solution for improving a poor-performing school is to keep the school open with the existing staff and to “provide comprehensive outside support.” That’s more than three times the number of respondents for any of the school closure options.

While the poll didn’t define “comprehensive outside support” for participants (we have our own ideas of course: partnerships with community organizations, social services for students and families that support the conditions for learning, etc.), it is clear that Americans believe that with more comprehensive support, schools can improve. That belief runs counter to existing policies where poorly performing schools are required to fire teachers and principals and may even turn over control of the school to a charter management organization. We certainly believe that when a school is persistently failing dramatic changes must be made. But like most Americans, we also wonder whether we shouldn’t try to provide more support first.

Reuben Jacobson

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