Reconstitution Trend Cools

By Barbara Miner

Enchantment with reconstitution as a strategy of districtwide school reform is fading, according to the reform magazine Catalyst.

The Chicago-based magazine notes that a year ago, “reconstitution was the hot remedy for turning around low-performing schools. Chicago was at the head of the pack, reconstituting seven high schools last summer.” (NOTE: Click here to read the Catalyst article.)

Reconstitution proposals currently are on hold in Chicago and district officials “are seeking less extreme measures to inspire success at what they consider their worst schools,” Catalyst reports in its September issue. One problem was that the reconstituted schools had a difficult time recruiting teachers, in particular experienced teachers. At the same time, others have noted that the threat of reconstitution may have motivated staff at other schools.

In San Francisco, which pioneered reconstitution in 1984, district officials say they are still trying to achieve the same results, “but now it will happen through collaboration” between teachers and administrators, Catalyst notes. Results in reconstituted schools have been especially disappointing in recent years.

Catalyst reports that the American Federation of Teachers, the main union in urban districts, was especially opposed to what it considered the reform’s “blame-the-teacher” approach. But even AFT officials agree that drastic measures are sometimes in order. “If your school is so bad that you wouldn’t send your own kids there, it needs to be shut down and redesigned,” Janet Bass, an AFT spokesperson, told Catalyst.