Struggling schools: ‘failing’ or ‘turnaround’?

    A state Senate-approved vouchers plan aims to help some students escape the commonwealth’s lowest-achieving schools, sometimes called failing schools. When it comes to this issue, word choice matters.      

    Pennsylvania isn’t the only place where education debates have people battling over terms as much as policy.

    Ben Skirvin, a StateImpact Indiana reporter covering education, said the term for the lowest-performing schools that get taken over by that state has been ‘turnaround schools.’

    He said it’s a phrase school officials grapple with if their building is taken over. “Do they want to refer to schools that they were operating just a year ago as failing schools?  Well, no they don’t want to call them failing schools because they were operating them,” said Skirvin. “But on the same token, do they want to refer to them as turnaround schools?  Well, that’s the language of the agency that took over the schools.”

    In Pennsylvania, the lowest-achieving schools are judged based on their students’ performance on statewide standardized tests.

    Teachers and state Department of Education professionals say the complexity of those tests, and why some students may score poorly on them, is why you won’t hear an educator talk about failing schools – even if a politician might.

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