School Turnarounds

Thousands of schools nationwide are failing to educate enough of their students effectively and are missing state and federal performance benchmarks. Many of these schools have failed to provide students with even a basic education for years. To respond to this challenge, education leaders need better tools to turn their schools around. “Turnarounds” are widely used in other sectors to fix failing organizations. Public Impact has surveyed this cross-sector experience to generate resources that help schools, districts, and others implement successful turnarounds. See the menu on the left for Public Impact’s work in this area and below for featured resources.

See for resources to create new staffing models that support turnarounds, by extending the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to more students.

Featured Resources

  • School Restart Authorization Process Guide

    Restart cover thumbnailAuthorizers and support organizations can use the School Restart Authorization Process Guide and related database to increase the success and sustainability of restart interventions in low-performing schools, with step-by-step guidance for designing or refining the restart process. The guide’s recommendations are based on the experiences of authorizers, school operators, education support organizations, and community leaders with experience in restarts nationwide. The process guide is complemented by the Restart Authorizer Resource database, with searchable tools and resources collected from authorizers and support organizations. These resources offer practical examples of the materials that support each step of the restart process. The restart process guide and authorizer resources are available at

  • Measuring School Turnaround Success

    Cover thumnbnailHow can states, districts, and schools measure the success of their turnaround efforts? This report by Public Impact, in partnership with the Center on School Turnaround, offers a national model for defining and measuring turnaround success that can be adapted to fit local contexts, with an approach to measuring academic gains using state data, and recommendations for expanding the approach to include leading indicators and targets based on school priorities for “early wins.”

  • Recruit, Select, and Support: Turnaround Leader Competencies

    Part 3 Guide CoverLeading school turnarounds is difficult work that requires specific competencies. This three-part professional learning module, developed through a partnership between the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, the Center on School Turnaround, Public Impact, and the University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education, provides state and district leaders with tools to identify and apply turnaround leader competencies to the selection and development of school turnaround leaders. The module is divided into three parts: 1) Understanding Turnaround Leader Competencies, 2) Recruiting and Selecting Turnaround Leaders, and 3) Developing and Supporting Turnaround Leaders. Materials for each part include a facilitator’s guide, a PowerPoint presentation, and handouts.

  • The Achievement School District: Lessons from Tennessee

    ASD coverTennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) was modeled on Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) but has forged its own path that offers useful insights for other states. The ASD has focused its effort on Memphis, which has the state’s highest concentration of low-performing schools. The ASD has collaborated with high-performing charter operators to conduct school turnarounds in neighborhood schools;; collaborated with philanthropic leaders to build a sustainable educator talent pipeline for the bottom 5 percent of the state’s schools; engaged neighborhood communities in the process of matching charter operators to schools selected into the ASD; and influenced district-led turnaround efforts. This case study, commissioned by New Schools for New Orleans and the Achievement School District, examines how these and other ASD’s strategies have resulted in a state turnaround school district distinct from the RSD.

  • Ten Years in New Orleans: Public School Resurgence and the Path Ahead

    NSNO 10 Year cover thumbnailMarking the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this report describes the transformation of public education in New Orleans and considers needed improvements for the next decade to create an excellent system of public schools in New Orleans. The report highlights how the shift to a decentralized system of public charter schools combined with a relentless effort to replace failing schools has produced remarkable gains in student academic achievement and fundamentally changed the role of government in education, the local labor market for educators, and the relationship between New Orleans communities and schools. The report also considers how the pace and magnitude of change presented many challenges to parents, educators, and community members, and discusses what needs to happen next to propel the city to even higher levels of achievement.

  • Expanding District Capacity to Turn Around Failing Schools: An Evaluation of the Cameron Middle School Charter Conversion

    Cameron cover thumbnailAfter several unsuccessful turnaround efforts and years of chronic low performance at Cameron Middle School, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) decided to try something different to dramatically improve student outcomes: gradually convert operation of the school from the district to a charter management organization. This report for MNPS tells the story behind the conversion, evaluates its successes and challenges, and extracts lessons learned for MNPS and other districts working to build their capacity to better support their lowest performing schools.

  • Turnaround Leader Actions and Competencies

    Turnaround Tool thumbnailTurnaround leader actions and competencies are the leading indicators for turnaround leader success. The competenciesthe habits of behavior and underlying motivations that help predict how a leader will do their jobscan be used for turnaround leader selection, evaluation, and development. The actionsthe specific maneuvers a turnaround leader must execute for leading a successful school turnaround effortserve as guidelines to focus turnaround leaders on how their difficult work will be accomplished. Self-assessments of competency and actions allow the turnaround leader to reflect on current strengths and areas for leadership development.

  • Turnaround Principal Competencies

    School Administrator coverIn an article for School Administrator magazine, Lucy Steiner and Sharon Kebschull Barrett examine how understanding competencies—the habits of behavior and underlying motivations that help predict how newly hired employees will do their jobs—can help administrators, such as those in Minneapolis, hire the skillful leaders they need to turn around even the most troubled schools. Given that only 30 percent of turnarounds—in education and other fields—succeed, schools need leaders with a clear vision and the ability to make that vision a reality. Minneapolis Pubic Schools used competencies in their newly rigorous hiring process to make promising principal hires and to give the new leaders the support they need to keep turnarounds from becoming just another failed reform effort.

  • New Orleans-Style Education Reform: A Guide for Cities

    NSNO coverPublic Impact teamed up with New Schools for New Orleans to develop a guide for cities interested in dramatically growing their charter school sectors as part of an effort to turn around persistently low-performing urban school systems. This Guide builds on dozens of interviews with education and community leaders in New Orleans, insights from national experts who have supported the rebuilding efforts, and research and reporting on New Orleans’ education reforms. Centered around three key strategies: 1) strong governance and accountability, 2) building human capital pipelines to fuel the growth of schools and 3) incubating new schools and growing proven schools into networks, the Guide illustrates recommendations with vignettes of work done by bold school leaders and reformers.

    The Guide also looks toward long-term sustainability of this new system, exploring topics such as building community demand and support for school reforms, developing a fiscally-balanced system that doesn’t rely long-term on philanthropy, and planning ahead for the new types of challenges that face a decentralized system of schools in areas such as transportation, equitable access, and transparent system oversight.

  • Importing Leaders for School Turnarounds: Lessons and Opportunities

    Importing Leaders for School Turnarounds-1One of the biggest challenges in education today is identifying talented candidates to successfully lead turnarounds of persistently low-achieving schools. Evidence suggests that the traditional principal pool is already stretched to capacity and cannot supply enough leaders to fix failing schools. But potentially thousands of leaders capable of managing successful turnarounds work outside education, in nonprofit and health organizations, the military, and the private sector. If only a fraction of those leaders used their talents in education, we could increase the supply of school turnaround leaders significantly. In this report prepared by Public Impact for the University of Virginia’s Partnership for Leaders in Education, Julie Kowal and Emily Hassel explore lessons about when and how organizations in other sectors import leaders – including how they tempt people away, train them, and foster their success – to inform efforts by state and local leaders to import talent for failing schools.