Obama puts $3.5B to fix failing schools

December 5, 2009

The Obama administration will spend at least $3.5 billion in an effort to revamp schools with bad performance records. The plan stretches over a five-year period and aims to address at least 5,000 of the worst performing schools.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan heads the effort, which is an extension of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. “As a country, we need to get into the turnaround business,” Duncan said in a statement. “Adults need to have the courage to make these tough decisions and do right by our kids.” Duncan was a former schools chief and has had extensive experience with school turnaround projects.

While championed by the President, the actual work will be done at Federal levels. Local school districts and states will have to compete for grants so that they can overhaul their worst schools. About 1,200 applications are expected in the initial run. The following are the criteria that need to be fulfilled in order to receive the grant.

• Fire the principal and at least half the staff and reopen the school with new personnel.
• Turn a school over to a charter school operator or other management organization.
• Close the school and send students to higher-achieving schools in the district.
• Replace only the principal and take other steps to change how the school operates.
• “Dropout factories” in middle and high school levels will be of special focus as two-out-of-five kids of these schools never make it to graduation.