Meeting the demand before building the supply

Sam Dillon’s recent New York Times story, Inexperienced Companies Chase U.S. School Funds, accurately portrays one of the major concerns of the turnaround/transformation school model. Billions of federal dollars are being allocated to states and districts (and schools) to hire external Lead Partners to assist in the turnaround/transformation process. But, who are these Lead Partners? Can they do this work?

The truth is that there aren’t many Lead Turnaround Partners out there. And, those with experience and a track record of successful school improvement are even fewer. While it’s difficult to build a supply of partners to take on this work (especially before the funding and policies exist to implement), the extreme demand that is now present in virtually every state and the lack of strong partners is becoming, and will continue to be, a major problem.

Potential solutions:

  • Create multiple venture funds to launch new high quality Lead Turnaround Partners (NewSchools recently announced a new fund will help do this, most likely, in the charter-world).
  • Build a training program for Lead Turnaround Partners (much like Building Excellent Schools, KIPP, or Urban Teacher Residency United).
  • Create an oversight body to certify strong organizations, that includes a rigorous review and evaluation process that provides states and districts with quality guidance and holds the partners accountable (i.e. an accreditation).

These are all long-term solutions, but the money is on its way, Lead Partners are popping up all over the place (from individual retired principals and traditional supplemental education service providers to the big publishing companies and professional associations) and they’re already being hired. So, what do we do now?

  • States (and large districts) should complete rigorous preferred provider searches. While it’s inevitable that politics will get in the way, applying Lead Turnaround Partners SHOULD NOT automatically be approved simply because they completed the RFP and it would cause potential conflict if they were not approved.
  • Districts and states need to closely monitor progress throughout the year, and if a Lead Turnaround Partner is not effective, the contract should not be renewed and the partner should be removed from the preferred provider list.
  • All Lead Turnaround Partners should have Memorandum of Agreements or Understanding (MOA or MOU) to clearly outline the goals, expected outcomes, autonomies, responsibilities, and repercussions for not achieving expected progress. These should be signed by the Lead Turnaround Partner, the district, and the state. See a recent AEI/Public Impact paper for more info.
  • States need to talk to each other to learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses in the RFP release and review process, monitoring, and from their experiences with the various partners.
  • Lead Turnaround Partners need to talk to each other to discuss what works in specific districts/states and what doesn’t (there’s more than enough work out there, so the need for competition should decrease).

The bottom line is that “children first” should be at the forefront of every decision made relating to the creation of preferred provider lists, selection of partners, and the development of contracts. If we don’t hold the adults accountable for results, it’s hard to hold kids accountable for their results.

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