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William J. Mathis, (802) 282-0058,
Teri Battaglieri, (517) 203-2940,

Giving Parents the Runaround on School Turnarounds

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Feb. 7, 2012) – Federal school "turnaround" strategies that call for firing teachers, replacing managers, or closing or converting public schools into charters are often met with resistance and anger among the parents whose children attend those schools. A recent study released by Public Agenda which focuses on how to market the concept of turnaround strategies fails to address the substantive concerns of resistant parents nor questions the soundness of these strategies as a way to improve schools, according to a new Think Twice review.

The report, What's Trust Got to Do With It? A Communications and Engagement Guide for School Leaders Tackling the Problem of Persistently Failing Schools, was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by William J. Mathis, an education researcher and former school superintendent who has studied school turnaround strategies.

The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

"Turnarounds" are the most drastic sanction imposed by the 10-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, which prescribes them for schools that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" in student achievement for five consecutive years. When imposed, they are often met with fierce community opposition from parents who don't want to see their neighborhood school closed and who don't want to lose teachers they and their children have found supportive and helpful.

In the face of such reaction, the authors of What's Trust Got to Do With It? focus on how to better sell the concept of turnarounds. They assume that resistant parents simply don't understand "how bad" their local schools are. These parents can, the report explains, be brought around to support what the authors characterize as "bold action to transform deeply inadequate schools, including closing or fundamentally reshaping the leadership, programs, and staffing at these schools."

For the most part, the communications advice offered in the report is basic and is not troubling by itself. But as Mathis points out in his review, the report never treats seriously the substantive concerns of resistant parents; it never questions the fundamental strategy that it proposes communicating about.

 "While the report endorses and encourages the federally promoted turnaround approaches, it does not include a discussion of the considerable body of research that raises questions about the effectiveness of these models," Mathis writes. "In fact, the efficacy of all these turnaround reforms is simply assumed."

Mathis criticizes the report for being "paternalist and arrogant" in its "criticism of parents not knowing what's good for them."

"What's Trust Got to Do With It? is ironically titled," Mathis concludes. "Trust has everything to do with the problem. Yet, perhaps the greater problem is in the authors' complete lack of trust in the views of the parents."

Find William Mathis's review on the Great Lakes Center website at:
Find What's Trust Got to Do With It? on the web at:

Think Twice, a project of the NEPC, provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
The review is also available on the NEPC website at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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