Public Impact and EdPlex have released a new website, process guide, and set of resources for charter school authorizers to support school restarts. Restarts occur when an underperforming school is closed and a new school with new management opens to serve the same students. The restart strategy differs from other major interventions, such as transformation (replace school leader, implement research-based strategies), turnaround (replace school leader and at least 50 percent of staff, implement new instructional model), and school closure. According to the authors of the guide, restarts are the more effective strategy: closures negatively affect student attendance and achievement, while preliminary research shows better student outcomes in restarts than transformations or turnarounds. A key issue with turnarounds is finding great school leaders and teachers. Done well, restarts can mean rapid improvement for low-performing schools (we acknowledge, however, that some believe that a core part of the charter model is simply closing failing schools, period).
The resources and process guide in particular are meant to increase the likelihood of restart success and sustainability by providing authorizers with a practical “how-to” for getting the job done. The guide consists of nine steps, from the planning stage through post-opening, that include community engagement, recruiting, restart approval, and matching the new management team/CMO with the school identified for restart. A timeline that can be utilized anywhere from 12–24 months out is also included.
The website features a good library of resources, searchable by each of the nine process steps, from organizations engaged in restart work. Content includes a Community Collaboration for School Innovation Toolkit from the Colorado Department of Education, an RFP for Restart Applicants from the Tennessee Achievement School District, a presentation on the match process from the School District of Philadelphia, and a communications protocol from UP Education Network for announcing restarts to the public, to name a few. Even if you’re not engaged in restart work, there’s some good stuff in here worth checking out for any charter authorizer.
There are, of course, certain conditions for success upon which restart efforts will hinge: authorizer authority to implement/support a restart, community engagement, transparency of performance of the restarted school and—critically—the supply of good school operators. As an Ohio charter authorizer ourselves, we at the Fordham Institute has supported a few turnarounds (including one charter, Dayton Leadership Academy – Dayton View Campus, that just received a state award for outstanding performance on the state’s student growth measure), but nothing that matches the definition of a restart. As a charter authorizer, restarts are something we’d love to try because the strategy has great potential. In our experience, the biggest challenge has been access to a supply of high-quality operators.
Authorizers considering using restarts as one strategy to address poor performance might consider applying for Kickstart School Restart (KSR) support (the deadline to apply is June 10). Underwritten by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (which also supports the joint Public Impact-EdPlex project), KSR provides authorizers up to a year of personalized consulting specific to restart implementation. The support includes a self-assessment and development of a restart implementation plan, a consultant-facilitated SWOT analysis that builds on the self-assessment, coaching and direct technical assistance, and possibly peer learning via cohort meetings.
If the conditions for success are present, restarts appear to be a promising strategy to impact student outcomes. The new resources offered here provide good tools for authorizers undertaking this work.
SOURCE: SchoolRestarts.org, Public Impact, EdPlex, and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, accessed June 8, 2016.