Large numbers of schools across the country are low performing and have been for years. This longstanding and widespread problem painfully reveals that individual schools are not the only ones responsible for their performance. The public school system as a whole is unable, and sometimes unwilling, to address the root causes of dysfunction.
Districts rapidly introduce piecemeal reforms at low-performing schools but neglect larger issues of human capital and leadership. Restrictive state policies and lack of time or expertise prevent state education agencies from effectively managing district reforms. Significant and sustained interventions, with strong support and oversight from outside of the school, are necessary to interrupt continuous cycles of underperformance.
Federal policy can play an instrumental role in rectifying the systemic failures that allow schools to flounder. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, is a ripe opportunity to revise the law’s main program that supports school improvement—the School Improvement Grant fund.
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