At least 5,000 public schools have failed to meet their academic achievement targets for at least five consecutive years. The underlying causes of such failure are usually a combination of weak leadership, inadequate skill levels among teachers, and insufficient high-quality teaching materials.

In 2009, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) awarded competitive grants to four states to participate in the State Strategies to Improve Chronically Low-Performing Schools project. The project provided Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Mississippi with grant funds and consulting services to develop policies and plans that create the conditions to turn around chronically low-performing schools and districts. It yielded valuable lessons and suggested strategies that states and territories can use to fix failing schools and districts.

States can use the lessons learned from the NGA Center's project, along with the new federal funding, to step up their efforts to fix failing schools and districts in these ways:

  • Build state capacity to support the turnaround of failing schools and districts;
  • Engage external partners to manage school and district turnarounds;
  • Set ambitious but realistic goals for school improvement that incorporate multiple measures;
  • Develop a human capital strategy to improve the quality of leadership and teaching; and
  • Increase state authority to intervene in failing schools and districts, if other approaches prove insufficient.