New NYU Steinhardt Study Highlights Successful Strategies to Turn Around Struggling Schools


Steinhardt's Research Alliance for New York City Schools released a report today, “Learning from “Turnaround” Middle Schools: Strategies for Success,” identifying conditions and strategies essential to boosting instruction and performance.


Today, the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, housed within the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, released the results of a year-long study examining strategies used to turn around several of the city’s low-performing public middle schools. Taken together, the study’s findings underscore the importance of strong leadership in ongoing school-improvement efforts.

“The turnaround strategies prevalent in federal policy are sweeping approaches to change—school closure, conversion to a charter school, or dismissal of the principal and teachers,” said Dr. James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance. “In contrast, the schools in this study significantly improved student performance without the infusion of new resources and without the wholesale reassignment of students, teachers, and administrators.”

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools conducted the study as part of an ongoing focus on the middle grades, a critical turning point for students and, unfortunately, a time when many fall off track. In New York City—where only about half of 8th graders are proficient on standardized math tests, and just 35% are proficient in English Language Arts—the underperformance of middle schools has become an area of particular concern for the Department of Education. In September 2011, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced a broad strategy to improve middle school education in the city.

This study looked closely at two sets of initially low-performing schools. The first set, “the turnaround schools,” had exhibited significant growth in academic performance between 2006 and 2010. The second set had remained basically stagnant during the same period. Drawing on interviews and focus groups in both sets of schools, the report, “Learning from “Turnaround” Middle Schools: Strategies for Success,” identifies conditions and strategies that were essential to the turnaround schools’ ability to improve performance:

School-wide essential conditions: 1) the alignment of needs, goals, and actions, as identified by the principal, who then directed resources and energy toward achieving those goals; 2) a positive work environment for teachers; and 3) a safe and orderly school buil 500

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