The Turnaround Challenge: Put Up Or Shut Up?


It was announced today that Illinois and five other states have signed on to be part of a school turnaround cooperative, a $75 million effort being led by a nonprofit that's been studying turnarounds called MassInsight. (See ISBE press release below.)

Compared to the other states, IL is considered to be ahead of the pack. It's already put out a state sponsored RFP and approved a list of preferred providers. It's already got 12 "super" LEAs who have promised to accelerate change in order to win extra money. It's got one of the nation's premier (only) turnaround providers in the form of AUSL, and a closely-integrated district-provider setup (ie the turnaround office in ONS, doing principal searches together). The new ED of the IEA used to run the Consortium for Education Change, the union initiative working on turnarounds around the state.
Etc. Etc.

But even as turnarounds spread to the rest of the state and the country no one's sure whether the turnaround model works, or whether there are enough (any) people who want to do this kind of controversial, difficult work. Walking into a broken school, creating a new culture, and dealing with the mistrust, setbacks, and attacks from colleagues can't be anything easy.

So I wonder what would happen if those who opposed turnarounds flipped the switch and came up with a better, saner turnaround model. There's no stopping the turnaround train at this point, and a pretty good case to be made that some schools need a big shakeup in order to do what's best for kids. But if no one's doing it right, why not do it yourself?

Illinois targets struggling schools with new

'Partnership Zones'

Illinois partners with Mass Insight and five other states in
public-private initiative to improve lowest-performing schools


SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announced today it will
participate in a three-year,
public-private partnership with five other states to develop
long-term reform strategies for their lowest-performing schools.
Illinois was selected to join the initiative, along with Colorado,
Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts
and New York by
Mass Insight Education and Research Institute, a Boston-based
education organization focused on closing achievement gaps.


excited to work with these states and Mass Insight to identify and implement
new strategies to turn around struggling schools,'' said State
Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. "This initiative, funded
by an unprecedented amount of federal dollars and private donations, calls for
dramatic broad-scale interventions.''


Partnership Zone Initiative will be funded by a variety of private and public
sources, including increased federal funding through the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act of 2009. Additional money for these six states could also be
awarded through the federal Race to the Top competitive grant program.


states will initially establish Partnership Zones in a limited amount of
districts with clusters of low-performing schools that will serve to
demonstrate the success of a more strategic approach to turnaround. Each
cluster of schools will be teamed with a lead partner, an organization that
directly supports principals in turning around schools. Lead partners are experienced
turnaround leaders selected by districts that have been pre-qualified by the
State Board of Education.  The Illinois Partnership Zone will also include
assistance from "Supporting Partners" who will help the district and
lead partners improve the effectiveness of teachers and principals in Partnership
Zone schools.


will likely select the initial Partnership Zone participants from the 12
districts or Local Education Authorities (LEAs) that have signed on to
accelerate improvement efforts as "Super LEAs'' in the
state's Race to the Top Application. Schools chosen for the Partnership
Zone will be given a higher degree of priority to receive funding through Illinois' share of
federal school improvement grants, and may receive as much as $750,000 per
school year for three years.  


of the additional funding will go toward increased teacher compensation to
support extended learning time, intensive professional development and
incentive pay in Partnership Zone schools.


Super LEAs, as identified in the state's Race to the Top Application,


  • Community Unit
    School District
  • De Pue
    Unit School
    District 103
  • Decatur School
  • Kankakee School
  • Meridian Community
    Unit School
  • Peoria School
  • Plano Community
    Unit School
  • Rich Township
    High School
  • Rockford Public Schools District 205
  • Elgin Unit
    School District
  • Thornton Fractional Township High School District
  • Zion-Benton Township
    High School


Partnership Zone is a hybrid model that combines the benefits of a district
with the operating flexibilities most frequently associated with charter
schools. Zone schools remain inside the district and may continue to tap into
the efficiencies of many districtwide services. However, Zone schools also give
school level leaders the freedom to make staffing, scheduling, curriculum and
salary decisions, in return for being held accountable for dramatic student
achievement gains within two years.


six states were selected for this group based on:


  • A commitment to the Partnership Zone framework set
    forth in Mass Insight's 2007 report, The Turnaround Challenge;
  • A commitment to investing the resources necessary for
    successful turnaround; and,
  • Alignment and support of state leadership.


plan to launch Partnership Zones on a flexible but aggressive timeline; with
some states, including Illinois,
implementing zones as early as the 2010-11 school year.



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  • Two words: "Poverty Pimps" The selling out of public education.

  • I would argue that's what we've already done, Alexander. We have completely flipped school cultures by empowering students, parents and staff to fix what's broken with schools instead of continuing to pour ridiculous percentages of our funding into consultants, bad software, patronage and administration. When you spend money directly on student learning and make the staff members feel wanted and welcome, the school improves.

    The question is then, why isn't our model used universal when it doesn't destroy communities, it doesn't attack people who have devoted their entire lives and careers to teaching and it doesn't fail catastrophically in the way that the nuclear turnarounds do?

    The answer is a bizarre confluence of hubris and antipathy toward effective non-corporate education.

  • i'm all for homegrown solutions.
    where's your model been implemented, xian?

  • We are pursuing this model at Julian. I'd say that Corliss is doing something similar. Know the data intimately, we've already had a complete 180 in school culture, but I'd say achievement gains are a few years away due to problems in the measures (after all, it would be brain dead stupid to compare our seniors to juniors and sophomores who had no teachers for large portions of their days during their freshman year transition to high school).

    Cleveland is doing it on a larger scale in its elementary schools. They already have strong improvements and I believe the change there is real, although I don't believe that the data itself is necessary replicable. I'm more interested in long-term improvement than quick jumps and gains.

    But it's not like it's that new. If you look at the CCSR's own research on the 5 fundamentals for school success, it's pretty clear how a collaborative school reform model would foster those fundamentals while top-down models inflicted on communities tend to destroy them.

  • Retired Principal said: PROACT Search is looking for extraordinary principals committed to urban school transformation who are ready to take a major school district to the next level of achievement. PROACT Search offers a very competitive compensation and benefits including relocation assitance. Successful candidates need to meet Eligibility requirements in order to pursue employment opportunities offered by local school councils and their respective schools. For more information about becoming a principal, please visit or email Salary range is $120,000 to $165,000. P.S.- The CPS Eligibility list only has about 102 candidates on it and there will be from 160 to 200 principal openings for next school year!

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    Dear RP-the CPS eligibility list is WORTHLESS. Ron is putting in interum principals without being on the list and letting them in as principals even when failing after application, to get on the list. Look at Drummond, the guy there was in trouble for god's sakes for lying about his qualificatins, but he made it on the list anyway and will be the next contract principal! Its all BS--there will be no shortage of people placed into principalships UNDER Ron's control. You can be a interum with ANY degree!
    The shortage will be of smart LSCs who know they are being gamed and savvy reporters who will get this story out. Patronage all the way baby.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    Retired Principal said: Dear District299reader, yes you are correct! CPS is now sending out letters to principals who failed the process telling them that CPS made a mistake and now they can be on the eligibility list!

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    The OPPD eligbility process is straightforward and smart. If a Principal cannot pass it, they should not be placed in a leadership position. There may be a 'grandfather' policy for some current Principals, but the sooner they phase that out, the better FOR OUR KIDS.

  • check out what vivian loseth, robin steans, mike klonsky, and jackson potter have to say about the turnaround model in the new catalyst caucus, an online forum catalyst has just created and launched this week

  • a blog post from catalyst about the new grant says that there will only be about 10 grants given at first

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