There are more than 800 schools in Berlin. Many of them are located in socially and economically disadvantaged areas – and face particular challenges as a result.
Achieving the turnaround
The good news is that this needs not to be an inevitable fate. There are schools in such areas which manage to compensate for their students’ challenges at home and in their neighbourhood and help them graduate career- and college-ready.
But even schools that have a long way to go and are currently underperforming can be turned around. To do so, however, they require special, systematic and continuous support. And this is exactly what the "School Turnaround" project in Berlin seeks to provide.
As an intervention for low-performing schools in high-need neighborhoods, turnaround has some history of success in places like New York City. Turnaround is directed toward the clear and long-term goal of improving leadership, management and teaching individually at each school. This is how the school once again becomes an attractive place for learning and achievement – for students, teachers, and parents. The key to achieving this goal is the interaction between all actors, at school level and at system level. It is clear that turnaround can not be achieved by a school alone – it takes a shared effort of superintendents, school districts and school administration.
Pilot project until 2017
The turnaround model as one effort for addressing the challenge of underperforming schools is realized in Berlin with support of the Robert Bosch Stiftung. In this context, the foundation already initiated a dialog between New York’s and Berlin’s school districts in 2011. Now the foundation is supporting the School Turnaround project with a five-year pilot and a budget of up to 1.5 Million euros. Berlin’s Senate Department for Education, Youth, and Science contributes up to 400,000 euros to the project.
Three elementary schools and seven secondary schools from five different districts in Berlin, as well as the district superintendents, the respective school districts, and the Senate Department for Education, Youth, and Science are all involved at the local level. An office was set up especially for coordinating the turnaround efforts in Berlin. Together with the selected schools, the school supervisory board, and outside experts, it determines each school’s special needs, strengths, and challenges, and coordinates the development of goals and measures as well as monitors their implementation. The project brings together all actors in a network where they can share concerns and perspectives more broadly.
The overall goal is to have the selected schools on the right path toward turnaround by 2017. There are some promising results of early efforts and it is evident that every school has its own strengths which can and need to be tapped into. The goals are ambitious – but in a coordinated effort, the project can succeed in reaching them: creating capable management teams, teaching that meets the needs of the students, and a school environment in which students and teachers like to learn and work together. When the pilot in Berlin is completed in mid-2017, we already will have learned how other schools can benefit from the experiences of the ten schools participating in the program, and how they can achieve a turnaround as well.
The particular challenges that schools face in socially and economically disadvantaged areas are well known. Their students are often from low-income or migrant families. Quite a few are prone to behaving violently. The teachers at these schools sometimes no longer believe that they have the power to effect change. And many parents either do not participate in school events or simply register their children at other schools right from the start. These schools are barely able to fulfill their mandate of educating all children. As a result, student performance is low. There is a large number of dropouts. Teachers falter under the pressure and are often absent from school for health reasons.
Turnaround as a model for success
Many of these schools find themselves trapped in this situation. They need an outside perspective and the coordinated support of a system that helps the schools to look closely at both their problems and strengths. In all this, solutions need to be developed together with the school. This is exactly what the School Turnaround program offers. As success stories in other countries demonstrate, this approach is one of the most effective tools available for making schools successful once again.
Offering practical, hands-on support in school improvement is at the core of the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s activities for social change. The foundation believes that School Turnaround is a promising approach – also with regard to the lessons that can be learned there and be subsequently applied to other schools. As a result, the pilot in Berlin is not only focused on the ten participating schools. Reflecting and evaluating experiences in a network is a key part of the program. This network includes the excellent schools that have received the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s annual German School Award. Many of these schools are also located in socially and economically disadvantaged areas. What can the School Turnaround project in Berlin learn from them? Which measures have proven to be particularly effective – and what might not work?
Robert Bosch Stiftung as initiator
As such, one of the most important activities the Robert Bosch Stiftung is contributing to the project is monitoring and evaluation. The project partners’ total budget of 1.9 million euros will also be invested in individual measures at the participating schools such as coaching, study days, field trips and special materials for the classroom. Next to bringing in expertise from its various networks, the foundation builds on lessons learned for other activities in the field as the turnaround journey develops for the ten schools and their supporters.
The initial idea of addressing the challenges of underperforming inner-city schools in Berlin by building on the turnaround model to Berlin came from the Robert Bosch Stiftung together with Berlin’s former mayor Klaus Wowereit, the foundation thought to connect Berlin and New York, and as a result, opening up a dialog between the two largest urban school districts in the United States and Germany. The consulting organization FSG Social Impact Advisors took a close look at education reforms in both Berlin and New York in a study entitled “A Tale of Two Cities.” In 2011, the Robert Bosch Stiftung funded a trip by a delegation of the Senate Department for Education, Youth, and Science to New York for a firsthand experience of the effects of education reform and the turnaround activities in particular. The Senate Department and the foundation built on both the study and the findings from this trip when developing a concept for school turnaround in Berlin – since every school system is different, the turnaround model was adapted to meet local needs.
Similar efforts to support schools in critical areas are also currently being pursued in Bremen and Hamburg – the Berlin School Turnaround project communicates regularly with these programs.
A Tale of Two Cities
A study on dealing with schools in high-need areas by FSG Social Impact Consultants on behalf of the Robert Bosch Stiftung.