Since taking office in 1993, my Administration has pursued a comprehensive effort to strengthen public schools. We have worked to raise academic standards, promote accountability, and provide greater competition and choice within the public schools, including support for a dramatic increase in charter schools. Moreover, we have worked to make the investments necessary to improve teaching and learning in classrooms across America, through efforts to keep our schools safe and free of drugs; to provide students who need it extra help to master the basics; to increase parental and community involvement; to recruit, prepare, and provide continuing training to teachers and reward excellence in teaching; and to make sure every school has access to and can effectively use 21st century technology.
This strategy is starting to produce results. We know that all students can learn to high standards, and that every school can succeed if it has clear instructional goals and high expectations for all of its students; if it creates a safe, disciplined and orderly environment for learning; helps parents be involved in their children's education; and uses proven instructional practices. All schools must be given the resources, tools, and flexibility to help every student reach high standards.
Yet, no school improvement strategy can succeed without real accountability for results, as measured by student achievement. Excellent schools and schools that show significant improvement must be recognized and rewarded. At the same time, schools that demonstrate persistently poor academic performance -- schools that fail to make adequate progress in educating all students to high standards -- must be held accountable. No American child deserves to get a second-class education. Instead, State and local education officials must step in and redesign failing schools, or close them down and reopen them with new, more effective leadership and staff.
A growing number of cities and States have begun to take these steps. Cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York, and States such as Maryland and Kentucky identify low-performing schools and take steps to intervene if these schools fail to make progress. These steps often include the implementation of school improvement plans -- providing after-school academic help to students, strengthening training and assistance for school staff, creating smaller and more personal settings, such as schools-within-schools -- and, where necessary, reconstitution of the school and replacement of the school principal and other staff.
We must encourage and help more cities and States to take up the challenge of turning around low-performing schools and helping the students they serve get back on the path to achievement. We can do this by making widely available information on what works and what doesn't, and by ensuring that Department of Education resources are most productively used for these purposes.
In order to accomplish this, I am directing the Department of Education to take the following actions:
1. Produce and Widely Disseminate Guidelines on Effective Approaches to Turning Around Low-Performing Schools. There is much of value to be shared from the experiences of cities and States that already have successfully intervened in low-performing schools; from research and development on effective school improvement practices; and from business experience in managing high-performance organizations and in turning around low-performing companies. We know of several promising models of reform, ranging from the New American Schools designs to the Success for All program. These lessons must be summarized in clear and usable forms, and made widely available to educators, parents, State and local policy makers, business leaders, and others working to improve public education.
2. Help Cities and States Use Existing Department of Education Resources to Turn Around Low-Performing Schools. First, Department of Education programs should help and encourage more cities and States to develop and implement sound, comprehensive approaches to turn around low-performing schools and help students in them get a better education. The Department should develop a plan to provide technical assistance to cities and States seeking to turn around failing schools. In addition, the Department should inform cities and States of how they can use funds from existing Department programs to support their objectives. Many programs, such as Title I, Goals 2000, the Public Charter Schools Program, and the 21st Century Schools Program, are well suited for intervening in failing schools, because they can be used to provide extra help to students during and after the school day; to support high quality professional development for teachers; and to plan and implement effective school reforms. The Department should ensure that local school districts can easily and effectively access Federal funds from such programs and use them in an integrated fashion to support comprehensive efforts to improve low-performing schools. Where there are statutory barriers to accomplishing this purpose, such barriers should be identified so we can work with the Congress to change them.
Together, these initiatives can help local school districts turn failing schools into successful schools by improving teacher training, strengthening instructional practices, overhauling school management, and implementing schoolwide reforms. They can provide students who need it with extra help, during and after school hours. And they can provide students with additional choices within the public schools.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON
October 28, 1997
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