[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 28, 1997]
[Pages 1442-1443]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Memorandum on Low-Performing Public Schools
October 28, 1997

Memorandum for the Secretary of Education

Subject: Turning Around Low-Performing Public Schools

    Since taking office in 1993, and with your strong leadership, my 
Administration has pursued a comprehensive effort to strengthen public 
schools. We have worked to raise academic standards, promote 
accountability, and provide greater competition and choice within the 
public schools, including support for a dramatic increase in charter 
schools. Moreover, we have worked to make the investments necessary to 
improve teaching and learning in classrooms across America, through 
efforts to keep our schools safe and free of drugs; to provide students 
who need it extra help to master the basics; to increase parental and 
community involvement; to recruit, prepare, and provide continuing 
training to teachers and reward excellence in teaching; and to make sure 
every school has access to and can effectively use 21st century 
    This strategy is starting to produce results. We know that all 
students can learn to high standards, and that every school can succeed 
if it has clear instructional goals and high expectations for all of its 
students; if it creates a safe, disciplined and orderly environment for 
learning; helps parents be involved in their children's education; and 
uses proven instructional practices. All schools must be given the 
resources, tools, and flexibility to help every student reach high 
    Yet, no school improvement strategy can succeed without real 
accountability for results, as measured by student achievement. 
Excellent schools and schools that show significant improvement must be 
recognized and rewarded. At the same time, schools that demonstrate 
persistently poor academic performance--schools that fail to make 
adequate progress in educating all students to high standards--must be 

[[Page 1443]]

accountable. No American child deserves to get a second-class education. 
Instead, State and local education officials must step in and redesign 
failing schools, or close them down and reopen them with new, more 
effective leadership and staff.
    A growing number of cities and States have begun to take these 
steps. Cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New 
York, and States such as Maryland and Kentucky identify low-performing 
schools and take steps to intervene if these schools fail to make 
progress. These steps often include the implementation of school 
improvement plans--providing afterschool academic help to students, 
strengthening training and assistance for school staff, creating smaller 
and more personal settings, such as schools-within-schools--and, where 
necessary, reconstitution of the school and replacement of the school 
principal and other staff.
    We must encourage and help more cities and States to take up the 
challenge of turning around low-performing schools and helping the 
students they serve get back on the path to achievement. We can do this 
by making widely available information on what works and what doesn't, 
and by ensuring that Department of Education resources are most 
productively used for these purposes.
    In order to accomplish this, I am directing the Department of 
Education to take the following actions within 90 days:
    1. Produce and Widely Disseminate Guidelines on Effective Approaches 
        to Turning Around Low-Performing Schools. There is much of value 
        to be shared from the experiences of cities and States that 
        already have successfully intervened in low-performing schools; 
        from research and development on effective school improvement 
        practices; and from business experience in managing high-
        performance organizations and in turning around low-performing 
        companies. We know of several promising models of reform, 
        ranging from the New American Schools designs to the Success for 
        All program. These lessons must be summarized in clear and 
        usable forms, and made widely available to educators, parents, 
        State and local policymakers, business leaders, and others 
        working to improve public education.
    2. Help Cities and States Use Existing Department of Education 
        Resources to Turn Around Low-Performing Schools. First, 
        Department of Education programs should help and encourage more 
        cities and States to develop and implement sound, comprehensive 
        approaches to turn around low-performing schools and help 
        students in them get a better education. The Department should 
        develop a plan to provide technical assistance to cities and 
        States seeking to turn around failing schools. In addition, the 
        Department should inform cities and States of how they can use 
        funds from existing Department programs to support their 
        objectives. Many programs, such as Title I, Goals 2000, the 
        Public Charter Schools Program, and the 21st Century Schools 
        Program, are well suited for intervening in failing schools, 
        because they can be used to provide extra help to students 
        during and after the school day; to support high quality 
        professional development for teachers; and to plan and implement 
        effective school reforms. The Department should ensure that 
        local school districts can easily and effectively access Federal 
        funds from such programs and use them in an integrated fashion 
        to support comprehensive efforts to improve low-performing 
        schools. Where there are statutory barriers to accomplishing 
        this purpose, such barriers should be identified so we can work 
        with the Congress to change them.
    Together, these initiatives can help local school districts turn 
failing schools into successful schools by improving teacher training, 
strengthening instructional practices, overhauling school management, 
and implementing schoolwide reforms. They can provide students who need 
it with extra help, during and after school hours. And they can provide 
students with additional choices within the public schools.

                                                      William J. Clinton